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May, 1989 

Volume XV, Number 1 

The Museum of Early Southern 

Decorative Arts 


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The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts is owned and operated by Old Salem, Inc., 
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decorative arts and craftsmanship from the 1600s to 1820. The Museum exhibits its collection for 
public interest and study. 

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May, 1989 

Volume XV, Number 1 

Published twice yearly in 

May and November by 

The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts 


-x^AflD-.-O !? innn 

Copyright © 1989 Old Salem, Inc. 
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27108 

Printed by Hall Printing Company 
High Point, North Carolina 


Editor's preface iv 

The History of the CupoLi House, 1724-1777 1 

Bruce S. Cheeseman 

The Cupola House: 

An Anachronism of Style and Technology 57 

John Bivins, 

James Melchor, 

Marilyn Melchor, 

Richard Parsons 


Editor's preface. 

With the occasional exception of room interiors, architecture 
is seldom included in published studies on the decorative arts. 
This hiatus can detract from the full interpretation of early material 
culture. Architecture provides us with a benchmark in taking 
measure of the origin and use of movables that filled dwellings, 
for houses normally are fixed upon their construction sites. 
Buildings do not migrate about like furniture, and they usually 
retain a good deal more solid documentation than any 
''movable. " 

The Cupola House in Edenton, North Carolina, possesses a 
number of attributes important to the Museum of Early Southern 
Decorative Arts. Foremost in these is the building 's uniqueness 
in the southeast. However, the house long has been surrounded 
by controversy among the ranks of architectural historians, 
decorative arts historians, and historiographers. A puzzling legacy 
concerning the exceptional interiors of the dwelling has centered 
upon Francis Corbin, the agent of Lord Granville, who purchased 
the house in the 1730s. Certain well-considered evidence has 
suggested that Corbin could have added the elaborate interior 
finish to every room of the house during 1736-38, yet the 
execution and early style of these important rooms have appeared 
to contradict so late an installation. This puzzle has lent conjec- 
ture to the public interpretation of North Carolina V most signifi- 
cant early dwelling. 

This issue of the Journal is devoted to a historical, architec- 
tural, and physical examination of this exceptional southern house 
with the intent of documenting the precise nature of the Cupola 
House as it was built, as it stood in Corbin 'j" time, and as it remains 
today. For this purpose, Bruce S. Cheeseman, Elizabeth Vann 
Moore, James Melchor, Marilyn Melchor, Catherine Bishir, Richard 
Parsons, and Betsy Overton have Joined the Journal staff in pre- 
paring this two-part study. Mr. Cheeseman compiled his Cupola 
House research for the Division of Archives and History, North 
Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, in 1980; Miss Moore, 
as Mr. Cheeseman notes, previously had carried out extensive 
research on the property herself. A substantial portion of 
Cheeseman j research dealing with the history of the Cupola 
House after the Corbin residency was published as ''The Survival 
of the Cupola House: 'A Venerable Old Mansion '''in the January 
1986 issue of The North Carolina Historical Review, and we invite 
those of our readers interested in the later history of the house 


to peruse that useful article. W^e offer our special thanks to the 
Division of Archives and History for their kind permission to 
publish the balance of Mr. Cheeseman's work, which we have 
entitled ''The History of the Cupola House, 1724-1777. " 

The second part of this study, "The Cupola House: An 
Anachronism of Style and Technology, ' ' was written by the editor, 
based on the observations of all of the survey team, as well as 
written reports by James and Marilyn Melchor and Richard 
Parsons. Only those who submitted written material are included 
in the byline of this article, but that does not diminish the 
importance of the interaction of all the individuals involved. 

Elizabeth Vann Moore compiled an extensive listing of eigh- 
teenth century property transactions in Edenton specifically for 
this study. Forsyth Alexander, in addition to other research, 
examined a large sampling of architectural sources, both ancient 
and modern. Other individuals and organizations who have been 
most helpful are Olivia Alison of Newark, Delaware; Richard 
Candee of York, Maine; Abbot Lowell Cummings of New Haven, 
Connecticut; the Cupola House Association; Patricia Gibbs of 
the Department of Research, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; 
the staff of Historic Bath State Historic Site; the staff of Historic 
Edenton, Inc.; Jeanne Hull of Norfolk, Virginia; John Ingram, 
Curator, Special Collections, Colonial W^illiamsburg Foundation; 
Mills Lane of Beehive Press in Savannah; Jai Jordan, 
Administrator, Hope Plantation, Windsor North Carolina; Betty 
Leviner, Curator of Exhibition Buildings, Colonial Williamsburg 
Foundation; Audrey Michie, Curator of Collections, Tryon Palace, 
New Bern, North Carolina; Peter Sandbeck of the Preservation 
Branch of the Division of Archives and History, Raleigh; Kevin 
Stayton, Curator of the Department of Decorative Arts, the 
Brooklyn Museum and Wesley Stewart of MESDA. 

May, 1989 

Figure 1 . The Cupola House from the southeast, MESDA research file (MRF) 
S- 13,630; all of the Cupola House photographs are by the editor except as noted, 
and all carry the research file number above. 



The History of the Cupola House, 1724-1777 
Bruce S. Cheeseman 

The Cupola House (fig. 1) of Edenton is one of the most archi- 
tecturally significant structures in North Carolina.' Located in 
North Carolina's third oldest incorporated town, the house is one 
of the few surviving in the state that may be dated before the 
mid-eighteenth century. Once the townhouse of Lord Granville's 
principal agent, Francis Corbin, the Cupola House served as a 
private residence until 1918, when its last occupant sold much 
of the first floor interior woodwork to the Brooklyn Museum of 
Fine Arts. Facing demolition, the house was saved that year by 
the formation of the Cupola House Association, the earliest known 
community-organized agency specifically established for the 
preservation of a historical structure in North Carolina.^ The 
Cupola House then was repaired and converted into a town library 
and museum, and the structure served in that capacity until its 
restoration in the mid-1960s. This undoubtedly is one of the 
earliest examples of an adaptive use preservation in the state. 

Spurred by the initiative and leadership of the late David M. 
Warren of Edenton, the Cupola House Association, with the 
guidance of the state's Division of Archives and History and the 
cooperation of the Brooklyn Museum, authentically restored the 
structure in a period of over twenty months during 1964-66. Its 
missing woodwork was painstakingly reproduced under the direc- 
tion of W. M. Kemp of Hertford, North Carolina.^ Further 
restoration and interpretation of the structure and site has also 
continued under the auspices of the Cupola House Association, 
Historic Edenton, Inc., and the state Division of Arhcives and 
History. The formal and kitchen gardens of the homesite were 
reconstructed in the early 1970s under the supervision of land- 
scape architect Donald H. Parker of Williamsburg, Virginia. C. 
J. Sauthier's 1769 Plan of Edenton (fig. 3), which clearly depicts 
the Cupola House and its lot, served as the basis for the garden 

May, 1989 

Figure 2. A detail from Henry Mouzon. An Accurate Map of North and South Carolina. London: 
Sayer and Bennet. my M.ESDA accession 3024-3- 

The Chowan vicinity of Edenton Bay and Pembroke and 
Queen Anne's creeks was explored and settled long before the 
1712 establishment of what is today the town of Edenton. Indeed, 
exploration of the region dates to the famed Roanoke voyages 
of 1584-90, the very beginning of English colonization of the New 
World. ^ Further exploration of the Chowan region followed the 
establishment of the Jamestown colony in 1607, the adventurers 
often returning with glowing accounts of fertile bottom lands and 
vast timber forests.^ The region itself was included in the Virginia 
Charter of 1606, and it was referred to in the seventeenth century 
as "Ould Virginia," "South Virginia," "New Brittaine," and 
even ' 'North Florida. ' ' It was in this context, as Virginia's southern 
frontier, that the Chowan Region initially was settled in the 
seventeenth century.^ 

In the mid- 1650s colonists, primarily from Virginia and 
Maryland, began moving south into the Chowan and other regions 
north of Albemarle Sound, settling at first along the fertile river 
bottoms and sound inlets. By 1662 the population of the 
Albemarle Region exceeded five hundred individuals, and the 


Virginia Council later that year commissioned Captain Samuel 
Stevens as "commander" of the region, which it called the 
"Southern Plantation. "« On 24 March 1663, the Albemarle 
section became part of the newly chartered Carolina Proprietary, 
and settlement of the region progressed slowly under the govern- 
mental policies of the Carolina Lords Proprietors. Albemarle 
County was established in 1664 as the ruling governmental unit 
for the entire sound region, and a legislative and court system 
was established the following year (1665) under the auspices of 
Albemarle's first governor, William Drummond.^ At that time, 
present-day Chowan County was a portion of Albemarle County, 
organized for administrative reasons as Albemarle's "Shaftesbury 
Precmct" around 1668.'° The area was settled amidst the 
confusion, unrest, disorder, slow growth, and even armed 

Figure _•?. A detail of the Plan of the Town & Port of Edenton in Chowan County, manuscript 
map by C.J. Sauthter, June. 1769. By permission of the Bntish Library, London. The Cupola House 
and garden lots are directly above the center wharf marked "H, " as indicated by the arrow. 

May, 1989 

rebellion of late-seventeenth-century Albemarle County. The 
region was renamed "Chowan Precinct" around 1685, honor- 
ing both the friendly Chowanoc Indians and the Chowan River. 
By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the region was being 
settled rapidly as the Carolina frontier pushed westward across 
the Chowan River to Bertie and Hertford counties and southward 
across Albemarle Sound into the Pamlico region." 

Surviving seventeenth-century land records indicate that 
numerous families settled upon the fertile lands surrounding 
Edenton Bay and Pembroke and Queen Anne's creeks during 
Chowan's intitial settlement. '^ Many plantations, several of them 
quite large, were established in the vicinity, undoubtedly because 
of its easy access to navigable waters. The land Edenton now stands 
upon originally was part of a 1,000 acre tract owned by a Virginia 
planter named Thomas Hoskins, who held title to the land by 
right of a Virginia land patent.'-' Hoskins established a large plan- 
tation along Queen Anne's Creek just east of the present town 
site, and he renewed his title to the land around 1680 by right 
of a Carolina land patent. Soon afterward Hoskins sold a small 
tract of his land containing approximately 150 acres in "the fork 
of Queen Anne's Creek" (including the present town site) to a 
farmer named Hancock.'^ Passing through a succession of indi- 
viduals, the tract was purchased by Nathaniel Chevin, its sixth 
owner, in 1699; he was one of the most prominent planters in 
the Carolina Province at that time.'^ Eight years later, on 3 
October 1707, Chevin sold a part of the tract to Colonel Thomas 
Cary, later of Cary Rebellion fame, who in turn sold the land 
to merchant Thomas Peterson on 26 June 1710.'^ 

During the early years of the eighteenth century, the admin- 
istrative duties of the precinct of Chowan, as of the Carolina 
Province in general, increased proportionally with its population. 
Despite having been settled for some fifty years, Chowan and 
the other precincts north of Albemarle Sound possessed neither 
a town nor a village to handle functions such as the collection 
of taxes and customs and the registration of lands and deeds. 
Sessions of court and other precinct responsibilities were carried 
out at regular meetings held at various farmers' plantation houses. 
This was a great inconvenience and annoyance to both province 
officials and settlers alike, who often had to travel long distances 
over hazardous roads to attend a session of court. Finally, in 1712 
the General Assembly voted to establish a town upon the 100 
acre tract jointly owned by Thomas Peterson and Nathaniel 


Chevin, who apparently had offered the land to the assembly 
for such a purpose.'^ 

The land Edenton stands upon probably was cultivated and 
farmed to a certain extent during the late seventeenth and early 
eighteenth centuries, as its owners all resided in the immediate 
vicinity. As early as 1699 "houses" were recorded on the tract. 
Thomas Peterson's dwelling stood west of present Granville Street 
in the vicinity of Queen and Water streets.'^ Also, mariner 
Abraham Lewis of Currituck may have built a docking slip at some 
point along the bay front, as records indicate he was involved 
in the region's early tobacco trade. 

The new town site was accessible by both the Edenton Bay 
and the "Virginia Road," which terminated at the bay front and 
led to Nansemond County and "Norfolk town."^^ Jhe vicinity 
was fairly well-settled by 1712, and an Anglican vestry had been 
established there in 1701.^° The prospects for a new town therefore 
must have looked fairly good in 1712, and Colonel Edward Mosely 
surveyed the original plan for the new settlement later that year. 
Twelve lots wide by three lots deep, the new town lay just east 
of the Virginia road. Early growth, however, was slow. The first 
lot was not sold until 1715, and the courthouse was not com- 
pleted until July 1716.^^ Three years later, in 1718, the town had 
a frame courthouse, which was located at some point on the 
present courthouse green, a public landing, and two or three small 
houses, but scarcely any other evidences of civilization. The 
General Assembly reported in 1720 that "there remains great 
part of the hundred acres not yet allotted. "^^ The still nameless 
settlement simply was known as "ye towne on Queen Anne's 
Creek," and by 1722 the tiny hamlet consisted of the courthouse, 
a warehouse for taxes and customs duties paid in goods, various 
small shops for artisans and merchants, at least one tavern, and 
approximately twenty houses. ^^ 

In the autumn of 1722 the General Assembly decided that 
the growing village should be enlarged, incorporated, and 
developed as the "metropolis," or capital, of the province. ^'^ The 
town was named in honor of the province's late governor, Charles 
Eden, and a new plan enlarging the town was laid off on the 
west side of the Virginia road, which became Broad Street. This 
land had been acquired in 1715 from Thomas Peterson's widow 
and the Peterson house was reserved by the General Assembly 
to serve as the "Governor's House and Pasture. "^^ Designated 
as "Port Roanoke," the town also was reaffirmed as one of the 

May, 1989 

province's official ports of entry, and an office for the collection 
of customs was duly established. Construction also commenced 
on a building to house the Governor's Council and the General 
Assembly in October 1722.26 

Due to the growing population of the Albemarle, the 
establishment of Edenton as the capital, and the proximity of 
the town to Virginia, Edenton grew more rapidly in the second 
quarter of the eighteenth century than other North Carolina towns 
of the period. Although actually further from the ocean than any 
other in the colony, Edenton bustled as a seaport, with sloops, 
snows, and brigantines entering and clearing daily. Edenton 
merchants exported a certain amount of tobacco, but naval stores, 
lumber, staves, headings, shingles, and planks were far more 
important staples. Corn, herring, and pork also were exported; 
manufactured goods such as common yard fabrics, linens, silk, 
shoes, hats, china, and household items were imported along with 
rum, salt, coffee, sugar, and molasses. ^^ William Byrd II of 
Westover in Virginia rather caustically described Edenton about 
ten years after its incorporation: 

This town is Situate on the North side of Albemarle Sound, 
which is there about 5 miles over. A Dirty Slash runs all 
along the Back of it, which in the Summer is a foul 
annoyance, and furnishes abundance of that Carolina 
plague, mosquetas. They may be 40 or 50 Houses, most 
of them Small and built without Expense. A Citizen here 
is counted Extravagant if he has Ambition enough to aspire 
to a Brick-Chimney. Justice herself is but indifferently 
lodged, the Court-House having much the air of a 
Common-Tobacco-House. I believe this is the only 
Metropolis in the Christian or Mahometan World, where 
there is neither Church, Chappel, Mosque, Synagogue, 
or any other Place of Publick Worship of any Sect or 
Religion Whatsoever. . . .Provisions here are extremely 
cheap, and extremely good, so that People may live plen- 
tifully at triffleing expense. Nothing is dear but Law, 
Physick, and Strong Drink, which are all bad in their kind, 
and the last they get with much Difficulty, that they are 
never guilty of the Sin of Suffering it to Sour upon their 
Hands. Their Vanity generally lies not so much in having 
a handsome dining room, as a Handsome House of Office; 
in this kind of structure they are really Extravagant. ^^ 


Byrd's wry description reveals Edenton as a growing town in 
the intermediate stage between a frontier society and a cultivated 
one. Indeed, Byrd's humorous prose, while exaggerated, is a useful 
commentary on the nature of life in a tiny southern port. Inter- 
estingly, Byrd may have relied on information obtained from 
others in his observations on Edenton, for there is no documen- 
tary evidence that he actually visited the place. Edenton continued 
to emerge during the 1730s, and Edward Moseley's 1733 M.ap 
of North Carolina recorded it as six- block area abutting on Broad 
Street, fronting the bay. In his 1737 Natural History of North 
Carolina, Dr. John Brickell stated that Edenton was the largest 
town in the colony, "consisting of about Sixty Houses, and has 
been the Seat of the Governors for many Years. . . . " -^ Edenton 
finally entered Byrd's "Christian and Mahometan World" when 
construction of St. Paul's Church commenced in 1736.-'^° 

Not long after the incorporation of the town in 1722, the 
Commissioners of Edenton began the sale of the new lots west 
of Broad Street, and they auctioned off Lot One of the new plan 
to John Lovick.^' This was the lot upon which the Cupola House 
was later built and now stands. Lovick came to the province in 
1710 as part of Governor Edward Hyde's entourage; he held 
numerous offices in the colony until his demise in 1733. As 
surveyor general," in 1728 Lovick was appointed one of the 
commissioners to survey the boundary line between North 
Carolina and Virginia, and as such he was portrayed as 
"Shoebrush" in William Byrd's now-famous Secret History of 
the Dividing Line. Lovick apparently was the one North Carolina 
commissioner Byrd managed to get along with; Byrd described 
Lovick as "a merry good humor'd Man, [who] had learnt a very 
decent behaviour from Governor Hyde. . . ."^^ Lovick purchased 
Lot Number One of the new plan on 1 November 1722 for a 
mere ten shillings. ^"^ Approximately 330 feet long by GG feet wide, 
the half-acre lot was at the time ideally situated, adjoining Broad 
Street on the east and fronting the waters of Edenton Bay on the 
south. -^^ It might seem that such a waterfront lot in a growing 
port town would have brought a considerably higher price than 
ten shillings. As the 1722 deed stipulates, Lovick's title to the 
lot was conditioned upon the following passage: 

Provided that if the sd. Jno. Lovick, heirs or assigns do 
not errect & build or cause to be errected and built on 
the sd. lott or half acre of land be it more or less one 

May, 1989 

habitable house or edifice not of less dimen. Twenty feet 
in length & fifteen feet wide & seants [sic] & also clear 
the sd. lott from all trees underbrush or grubbs within 
two years after the date of these presents than this covenant 
be void & of none effect. . . .[sic]^^ 

Failure to comply with the stipulation would invalidate the deed, 
causing the property then to revert to the town commissioners 
to be used or resold as they saw fit. On 7 August 1723 Lovick 
sold the lot to Scottish merchant Adam Cockburne, for "a 
valuable consideration. "^'^ It is doubtful that Lovick made any 
improvements to the lot during his brief, nine-month ownership. 
The deed transferring the lot to Cockburne does not mention 
any improvements, and the "valuable consideration," cannot 
have amounted to much, as Cockburne later sold the lot for five 
shillings. 3^ 

Cockburne, like Lovick, speculated in the town lands of 
Edenton.^9 Also like Lovick, Cockburne owned the Cupola House 
lot for less than a year, selling it to his friend and political mentor, 
Christopher Gale, on 25 April 1724, for the same amount he 
had paid for it, five shillings. '^° The deed transferring the lot's 
title to Gale again mentions no specific improvements. However, 
only eleven days later Christopher Gale sold the lot to Richard 
Sanderson, Jr. , of neighboring Perquimans Precinct for the start- 
ling sum of £25, exactly one hundred times as much as Gale had 
paid for it.'^' Like the previous deeds concerning the lot, no 
existence of a house or edifice of any kind is acknowledged in 
the transaction. Obviously, Gale could not have made any 
substantial improvements to the lot in so short a time, therefore 
making the inflated price paid by Sanderson an unusual trans- 
action for an apparently vacant lot. 

As Chief Justice of the colony from 1712-32, Gale was one 
of the most powerful and influential figures in proprietory North 
Carolina. "^2 Among Gale's residences was a large plantation along 
Queen Anne's creek which bounded Edenton on the east, and 
he held numerous local offices along with his proprietary duties. "^^ 
Gale was one of the first commissioners of Edenton, and he was 
collector of customs for Port Roanoke at the time of his death 
in 1734. As an influential member of the General Assembly and 
Governor's Council himself, Richard Sanderson, Jr., was 
acquainted with Gale prior to his purchase of Lot One in the spring 
of 1724. Since Sanderson was not a resident of Chowan, Gale 


simply may have acted as his agent in buying the lot. In such 
a case, Gale's services would not have come without a fee, and 
perhaps the 25 included a hefty commission for himself. It is also 
possible that Chief Justice Gale saw an opportunity to garner a 
substantial profit from an "outsider," although this seems 
unlikely since Sanderson married Mrs. Gale's sister soon afterward. 

Documentary evidence surrounding the construction of the 
Cupola House requires an examination of the Sanderson family. 
Richard Foster, an English sea-captain whose name appears in 
the records of Lower Norfolk County, Virginia, as early as 1641, 
was granted 150 acres by the General Court of Lower Norfolk 
County for having transported Richard Sanderson, Sr., John 
Sanderson, and a "maid servant" named Joane to the colony. "^"^ 
The Sandersons also appear to have been Englishmen; the careers 
of Richard Foster and Richard Sanderson, Sr., were closely 
entwined from this date onward. 

In the early 1660s, Captain Foster and Richard Sanderson both 
moved into the Albemarle Region, settling in what is today 
Currituck County. Richard Sanderson, Sr., later stated in a 
deposition of 13 June 1711 that he had come to North Caroline 
"ye yere next after King Charles II was restored" and settled "ncre 
the head of Currituck Bay, which runs about twelve or fourteen 
miles to the narw's of Currituck mlet."'^^ Foster apparently settled 
nearby, and he quickly acquired prominence in the new province. 
In the 1670s Foster was appointed as one of the Lords Proprietors' 
deputies and served as such on the Governor's Council throughout 
the decade; he also rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and 
Commander of the Albemarle militia at the same time.^*^ 
Although a representative of the Proprietors, Foster was one of 
the leaders of "Culpeper's Rebellion" in 1677-78, a brief uprising 
against the arbitrary rule of Proprietary Governor Thomas Miller. 
In fact, after reviewing the rebellion, the King's Council in 
England concluded that Richard Foster had helped young John 
Culpeper "contrive" the riots. "^"^ Following Culpeper's Rebellion, 
Foster served as a member of the council in 1680 under Gover- 
nor John Jenkins, who replaced the deposed Thomas Miller. This 
is the last record of Foster in the colony; no record of his death 
has survived. '^^ 

It was Captain Richard Foster and the antiproprietary faction 
that introduced Richard Sanderson, Sr., to the turbulent politics 
of proprietary North Carolina by choosing him to serve in the 
assembly following the overthrow of Governor Thomas Miller in 

May, 1989 

December 1677. ^^ From this moment until his death in 1718, 
Sanderson held numerous and influential offices in Carolina's 
proprietary government. Among other positions, he served as a 
member of the council, member of the assembly, a justice of the 
general court and court of chancery, and a proprietary deputy. ^° 
Sanderson was most influential as a member of the Governor's 
Council, and he was one of the leaders of the successful oppo- 
sition to corrupt Governor Seth Sothel in the late l680s.^i Foster 
may have been more than Sanderson's mentor in politics, possibly 
serving as well to instruct him in the "lessons of the sea." After 
establishing his plantation "near the head of Currituck Bay," 
Sanderson became a ship owner of some pretensions and appar- 
ently became quite prominent in the early coastal tobacco trade. 
Two of his vessels, Richard of Currituck and Richard of North 
Carolina, both shallops of four tons burden, appear frequently 
in the early port records of Rappahanock, Virginia. The master 
of both vessels was Sanderson's son, Richard, Jr.^^ 'phe elder 
Sanderson's plantation was approximately 1,300 acres, and he 
owned twelve slaves at the time of his death in 1718." Along 
with Richard, Jr., Sanderson also was involved in a partnership 
with Hugh Campbell and Governor Henderson Walker to raise 
cattle on Ocracoke island, but this attempt was not successful.^"* 
Despite such abortive ventures, the Sandersons have been 
adjudged one of the wealthiest families in North Carolina between 

Little is known about the personal life of Richard Sanderson, 
Sr., who was born in 1641. The name of his first wife remains 
unknown, as does the exact number of his children. At least four, 
however, are known: sons Richard, Jr. and Joseph, and daughters 
Susanna and Cesiah.^^ About 1711, Sanderson married a widow, 
Damarus Coleman, whose first husband, Ellis Coleman, "died 
beyond the seas intestate" leaving her as administratrix to a "vastly 
troubled" estate." 

On 29 July 1718 Thomas Swann, Damarus Sanderson's 
attorney, exhibited in court what Mrs. Sanderson claimed was 
"the last will and testament of her late husband Richard 
Sanderson, Esquire." On the same day, however, Richard 
Sanderson, Jr., entered a "caveat against sd. will of his father. "^^ 
After hearing the testimony of both sides, and "the evidences 
thereto being examined," the court ruled that "the same is not 
a good will" and indicted William Alexander, the Collector of 
Customs for Port Currituck, for forgery. Mr Alexander's 


subsequent testimony on 30 March 1721 explicates the case: 

Wm. Alexander setting forth that he being a person very 
ignorant in any legal proceedings, through the over- 
persuasion of Mrs. Damarus Sanderson he undertook to 
write the will of Richard Sanderson, Esquire, husband of 
the said Damarus . . . and being ignorant of the conse- 
quence of such matters did by her order put severell things 
without any orders from the said Richard Sanderson not 
then considering but that her orders were sufficient for 
his so doing. ... ^9 

Alexander later was absolved of the forgery charge, and the estate 
of Richard Sanderson, Sr. was properly administrated by Richard, 
Jr. Damaras Sanderson died in 1719, soon after her November 
1718 marriage to Thomas Swann,"^" thus escaping any criminal 
charges that may have been brought against her. 

Born in Currituck Precinct in either the late 1660s or early 
1670s, Richard Sanderson, Jr., learned navigation from his father 
at an early age. Late-seventeenth-century port records show that 
he served as master of many ships in the early coastal tobacco 
trade, and he became involved in the more lucrative New England 
and West Indies trade while still a young man.^^i In March 1698 
a vice-admiralty court charged that Richard Sanderson, Jr., along 
with Captain Anthony Dawson and others, "rifled, defaced and 
broke up HMS Swift Advice, a ship of war of our sovereign Lord 
the Kind driven on shore in this government by storm and 
deserted"; Sanderson was arrested and jailed soon afterward. ^^ 
The charge later was dropped, however, apparently because of 
the influence of his father, who posted bond and paid several 
"fees" for Richard, Jr. 's release from prison. ^^ Later, in 1714 
merchant John Blish accused Richard Sanderson, Jr. in court of 
illegally transporting two of his Indian slaves to New England 
for sale; the court subsequently found Sanderson guilty and 
awarded Blish the amount of money Sanderson had received for 
the sale of the two Indian slaves plus an additional 30 for 
"damages."^"* Despite such shenanigans, Sanderson prospered 
greatly in the New England and West Indies trade, and he soon 
became one of the leading maritime merchants in North Carolina. 

In the first decades of the eighteenth century, young Richard 
Sanderson acquired title to a vast acreage throughout the Outer 
Banks region and along the northern shore of Albemarle Sound. ''^ 

May, 1989 11 

Among other lands, he obtained and procured clear titles to the 
entire island of Ocracoke and half of Roanoke Island. *^^ Sander- 
son's small fleet of vessels, including the brigantine Sea Flower 
of 40 tons and the sloop Swallow of 10 tons, utilized both 
Ocracoke and Roanoke for transferring coastal and West Indian 
cargoes; in fact, the corridor between Roanoke Island and the 
mainland came to be known as "Sanderson's Channel" during 
the early years of the eighteenth century. ^^ Sanderson also was 
instrumental in trying to establish a town near the present location 
of Manteo on Roanoke Island, but these efforts failed in 1716 
and again in 1723.^^ At some date prior to 1715, Sanderson 
established his "manor plantation" on the west bank of Little 
River in Perquimans Precinct where he resided until his death 
in 1733.^' He owned quite a few slaves, both Indian and black. 

In March 1715 the assembly and general court met at "Captain 
Richard Sanderson's house in Little River. "^° His political career 
had begun at an early age; records reveal that he was appointed 
a justice of the general court and member of the council on 22 
April 1695.^' From that date onward, Sanderson was a constant 
member of council and justice of the general court, and he twice 
served as speaker of the assembly (1709, 1715-16). ^^ j^ 1712 
Sanderson married Elizabeth Mason of Virginia, the widow of 
Thomas Mason (d. 1711), who had been a member of the House 
of Burgesses in 1696 and a justice of Lower Norfolk County. ^^ 
She apparently was Sanderson's second wife; the name of his first 
wife remains unknown. Elizabeth Mason Sanderson died soon 
afterward, however, and Sanderson remarried in 1726, taking 
widow Ruth Laker Minge, Christopher Gale's sister-in-law, as his 
third wife.^^ Tragically, the third Mrs. Sanderson died two years 
later in 1728, leaving Sanderson a three-time widower. ''^ At least 
three children were born to Sanderson, apparently all in union 
with his first wife: Richard, III (d. 1737), Grace (d. 1744), and 
Elizabeth (d. 1767).^^ The name "Richard Sanderson" appeared 
in three following generations of the direct descendants of Richard, 
Sr., of Currituck; the death of Richard Sanderson VI of Durants 
Neck without heirs in 1816 brought to a close one of the most 
influential and prominent family lines in the history of early North 

As we have seen, Sanderson purchased new plan Lot One from 
Christopher Gale for £25 on 6 May 1724. ^« Neither Sanderson's 
deed nor any of the previous transactions renewed the amount 
of time allotted for improvement in the initial property deed; 


thus, instead of an additional two years, Sanderson had just six 
months before the reversion deadline to erect, or at least begin 
construction of, a "habitable house or edifice . . . not less than 
twenty feet in length, fifteen in breadth eight half- feet in 
height. "■'^ Sanderson indeed fulfilled the requirement for 
improvement; two years later, on 26 April 1726, he sold "lot 
no. one &. house in the new plan of the town of Edenton" to 
John Dunston for £100.^" This is the first recorded acknowledge- 
ment of the existence of a house upon the lot, and the price of 
£100, while not exorbitant, indicates that it was a fairly substan- 
tial dwelling. Yet one cannot determine with documented 
certainty from ths record alone that the dwelling erected for 
Richard Sanderson, Jr., in 1724-26 was actually the structure 
known today as the Cupola House. However, the acknowledge- 
ment of a house in every one of the later property deeds strongly 
suggests that the dwelling constructed for Sanderson was indeed 
the Cupola House. From this scant information, we may surmise 
that the Cupola House, or at least a portion of it, was built during 
the years 1724-26. 

Several plausible explanations exist regarding Sanderson's 
motives for constructing a dwelling in Edenton at the time. As 
a frequent member of the council and assembly, Sanderson might 
have wanted a residence in the new capital for convenience when 
the legislature met; the house could have provided revenue from 
rental the rest of the time. Sanderson's estate papers reveal that 
his shipping interests brought him into frequent contact with 
various Edenton merchants, and it is possible that Sanderson 
wished to extablish a "seat" of business in Edenton. Simple 
speculation is another motive, since the house was located close 
to the planned site of the new courthouse. An even more personal 
motive, though improbable, is suggested by the marriage of 
Sanderson's daughter, Elizabeth, to John Crisp, the son of an 
Edenton merchant, in July 1725; perhaps the Cupola House was 
constructed to serve as the young couple's first home.^' 

More difficult to determine, however, is the original appear- 
ance of the structure, and this question has produced divided 
opinions among scholars who have studied the structure and its 
history. In its present state, the Cupola House, with its lavish 
interiors, imposing chimneys, and crowning "lanthorne," makes 
much more sense architecturally as an elegant townhouse for the 
wealthy Sanderson or as a dwelling for his daughter and son-in- 
law than it does as a dwelling for rent or sale. Nevertheless, records 

May, 1989 13 

reveal that Sanderson sold the structure soon after its comple- 
tion for a seemingly low sum.^^ This fact has suggested to some 
that the Cupola House was originally a more modest dwelling, 
perhaps simply plastered inside in lieu of its splendid paneled 
and carved interiors known today. ^^ Editor's note: we found it 
appropriate to add the following information regarding contem- 
porary property sale prices to Mr. Cheeseman 's study. The £100 
sale price of Sanderson's house indeed seems low, but it is difficult 
to compare with other structures of the period. Houses were 
seldom described in deeds, and their value was contained within 
the total value of the real estate. Listed values can be problem- 
atical, since considerations may have been present that were not 
reflected in stated deed values. An extensive search of Chowan 
County deed books by Elizabeth Vann Moore reveals that during 
1723-26, Edenton properties with improvements sold for as little 
as £15 (Thomas Matthews to William Badham, lot 36 in the Old 
Plan, with buildings, 13 March 1723/4) and as much as £230 
(Patrick Ogilby, joiner, to James Winwright, lot 10 in the Old 
Plan, with houses, 13 October 1724). On 23 March 1726/7, 
Christopher Gale sold William Little lot 20 in the Old Plan, 
containing houses, edifices, and fences, for only £53. Both men 
were resident on this site, and since both were men of station 
and wealth, the house hardly could have "been a shanty," in 
Miss Moore's words. None of these structures survive, however. 
As in the transferral of the Cupola house, the sale price of each 
represented pounds sterling, for there was no North Carolina 
provincial currency at the time. In Williamsburg, gunsmith John 
Brush's story-and-a-half house, which still stands on Palace Street, 
was sold in 1728 for £100 Virginia currency; the two rear wings 
now a part of the dwelling had not yet been added. At that time, 
a Virginia pound was worth approximately 80 percent of a pound 
sterling. The Brush house, therefore, sold for about £80 sterling. 
John Dunston, who purchased the house from Sanderson, had 
been appointed the "Naval Officer and Receiver of the Tenths 
of the Fishery ... for that part of Carolina . . . that lyes north 
and east of Cape Fear; the Lords Proprietors had awarded him 
that office in June 1723. ^'^ As Naval Officer of North Carolina, 
Dunston's responsibilities included the keeping of all the 
province's shipping records and the collection of various bills of 
custom accordingly due. For his efforts, Dunston was to receive 
a fee of £10 for every 100 of customs duties collected. ^^ Consider- 
ing that there were four official ports in the Pamlico and 


Albemarle by 1723 — Bath, Beaufort, Currituck and Roanoke 
— Dunston's job was arduous. He departed England soon after 
his appointment and arrived in Edenton in the autumn of 1723; 
on 16 November Dunston appeared before the council with his 
commission and instructions and took the oath of office.^'' 

At the time of Dunston's appointment, George Burrington 
was governor of the colony, and Dunston, like many other 
officials, soon ran afoul of the tempestuous Burrington. In May 
1724 Burrington attempted to replace Dunston with a favorite 
of his own. However, his effort was thwarted by the assembly, 
who staunchly supported John Dunston; Dunston in fact appears 
to have been quite popular in the colony despite the fact that 
his job was to collect the customs.^' In explaining his action to 
the Lords Proprietors, Burrington exclaimed that "Dunston's 
ill-behaviour obliged me to do so how can he be Naval Officer 
to four ports (there being so many here) passes the understanding 
of all people of these parts. "«^ Dunston's triumph was short-lived, 
however; he died two years later in the late summer of 1726. 

It is not known if Dunston's wife Martha emigrated to the 
colony with her husband in 1723, or, whether she was an Edenton 
woman whom Dunston met and married soon after his arrival. ^^ 
The Dunstons apparently boarded at first, perhaps at the house 
of Thomas and Ann Parris, and circumstantial evidence seems 
to suggest that the Dunstons may have been living in the Cupola 
House some months prior to John Dunston's actual purchase of 
the property in the spring of 1726.9° Martha Dunston acquired 
full title to the dwelling and lot by right of her husband's will. 
At the time of his death, John Dunston and his family (probably 
two small sons by then) had occupied the Cupola House less than 
a year. Probated on 24 September 1726, John Dunston's will of 
15 November 1724 simply stated: "I give and bequeath to my 
loving wife Martha Dunston all my real & personal estate forever 
and do hereby appoint her my sole Executrix. . . ."^^ Eleven 
months later, on 1 August 1727, Martha Dunston sold her "lott 
& house" back to Richard Sanderson, Jr., for £100, the exact price 
that her husband had paid for it.^^ It appears, however, that Mar- 
tha Dunston and her family continued to reside in the dwelling 
until the summer of 1730, when she purchased a dwelling and 
four lots "uptown" (two blocks north of the Cupola House) on 
the east side of Broad Street, the site upon which the Thomas 
Barker House was later built. ^^ As executrix of her husband's 
estate, Martha Dunston probably sold the Cupola House and lot 

May, 1989 15 

back to Richard Sanderson, Jr., in 1727 to raise "ready money" 
for settling the estate; she may have waited until that respon- 
sibility was taken care of before she purchased another dwelling. ^^ 
After Martha Dunston's lease ended in 1730, Sanderson probably 
continued to use the house as rental property until he sold it once 
again on 12 November 1731 to a merchant newly-arrived from 
England, William Morton. Morton paid "85 pounds Province 
Bills" for the property. This is the first deed that indicates that 
possible further improvements had been made to the lot, since 
it acknowledges "houses outhouses & Edifices" upon the half- 
acre tract. 95 The "85 pounds Province bills," however, represents 
a depreciated sales price, and certainly does not suggest that any 
substantial improvements had been made to the property. 

For the next twenty-five years, 1731-56, the Cupola House 
was owned by William Morton and his heirs. ^^ Unfortunately, 
little is known of William Morton, and extensive research pro- 
duced only fragments of documentary material regarding his life 
and residence in Edenton during the 1730s and 1740s. Morton 
was apparently a factor for a mercantile firm in Newcastle-upon- 
Tyne. His 1731 deed for the Cupola House is the first recorded 
evidence of his presence in North Carolina, and his name appears 
irregularly for the next eighteen years or so in various Chowan 
County records, such as tax and jury lists and court minutes. 
Besides dealing with Edenton merchants, a later power of attorney 
indicates that Morton was doing business with merchants in 
Northampton County, Bertie County, and the town of New Bern 
as well. 9^ Such a wide range of business and travel was not 
uncommon for an active colonial factor. ^^ Although the Cupola 
House apparently served as Morton's residence while he was in 
the colony, it may have been leased out as rental property during 
the years Morton was absent on business from North Carolina. 

On 23 August 1732 William Morton "of Edenton" appointed 
John Montgomery, then the Attorney General of North Carolina, 
as his "true certain and lawful attorney" to: 

[act] for me [Morton] and in my name for and on my 
behalf to contract, agree for, and to sell and dispose of 
my house and lot in said town of Edenton distinguished 
by the number or figure of (1) one in the new plan of 
the said town, and upon sale thereof commence and on 
my behalf to sign, seal and execute all or any such deeds, 
conveyances and assurances. . . .^9 


Morton probably made the power of attorney while preparing 
to return to England, and the document seems to suggest that 
at the time Morton did not expect to return to North Carolina. 
However, Morton did indeed later return, and Montgomery never 
sold the dwelling and lot as specified, for Morton's heirs acquired 
the title to it upon his death in the 1740s.'°° Thus it seems 
plausible that John Montgomery may have utilized the Cupola 
House as his Edenton townhouse during Morton's apparently 
prolonged absences from the colony, since the power of attorney 
would have given him a nominal title to the property in such 
a situation. Montgomery's possible residence in the house is not 
a documented certainty, however, for he also owned other 
properties in Edenton. i'^' It may be that Montgomery merely acted 
as a rental agent and attorney for William Morton. Indeed, the 
scarcity of material on both Montgomery and Morton precludes 
any facts about their use of the Cupola House; indeed, virtually 
nothing, with the exception of ownership, can be documented 
about the Cupola House itself during the twenty-five years it was 
owned by William Morton and his heirs. This is undoubtedly 
the most obscure period in the structure's history, and Morton 
today remains the leading engima in the puzzling history of the 
Cupola House. 

Either a bachelor or a widower, William Morton died in the 
mid-1740s. He apparently was in Edenton at the time of his death; 
he left no will. As next of kin, Morton's brother, George, and 
his sister, Elizabeth Graham, inherited the Cupola House and 
lot. Soon afterward, George Morton, a Newcastle-upon-Tyne 
mercier and clothier, died, and his interest in the property passed 
to his daughter Margaret Peck, niece of William Morton and the 
wife of William Peck, "gentleman" of Newbiggin in the county 
of Northumberland. '°2 The Morton heirs never left England, and 
they signed a power of attorney in 1749 with three North Carolina 
lawyers, Thomas Barker of Bertie County, William Cathcart of 
Northampton County, and Daniel Granden of the town of New 
Bern and Craven County to settle the estate of ' 'William Morton, 
late of Edenton in North Carolina in America, merchant, 
deceased." The power of attorney authorized Messrs. Barker, 
Cathcart, and Granden 

... to make execute & give & to sell 8c to dispose of & 
bargain for all or any such messuage tenant lands grounds 
lots hereditaments goods & effects to & with any person 

May, 1989 17 

or persons whomsoever as the or any of them shall think 
& adjudge right. '"^ 

The subsequent history of the Cupola House centered upon 
the controversial career of Francis Corbin, who had come to the 
colony to assist in overseeing management of one of the largest 
privately-held blocks of land in North America. This vast tract 
was a remnant of the territory controlled by the Lords Proprietors 
for sixty-five years. Although Anglo- Virginians settled in the area 
north of Albemarle Sound as early as 1655, before the Proprietary 
charter, the North Carolina frontier had advanced inland only 
about 100 miles by the 1720s. Dr. John Brickell, an Irish physician 
who lived in Edenton for a short time about 1730, reported that: 

The planters for the most part live by the water side, few 
or none living in the In-land parts of the country at present, 
though the Lands are as good and fertile as any that are 
yet inhabited; but not so commodious for carriage as by 
the Water, for most part of the Plantations run but a Mile 
backwood into the Woods, so that betwixt every River you 
shall see vast Tracts of Land lying waste, or inhabited only 
by Wild Beasts. '"^ 

This comparatively slow development of the colony forced seven 
of the eight Proprietors of Carolina to sell their lands back to the 
Crown in 1728; only John Carteret, Earl of Granville, retained 
his share, which consisted of the country lying south of the Virginia 
border to 35 ° 34' north latitude. '"^ The charter granting this ter- 
ritory, which comprised most of the northern half of the colony, 
was not completed until 17 September 1744, some sixteen years 
after the end of North Carolina's proprietary rule. Two months 
later. Earl Granville sent one of his attorneys, Francis Corbin, 
to America with the new proprietary charter and various other 
packets of documents and letters for the governors of the two 
Carolinas. Corbin was also to meet with Colonel Edward Moseley, 
who had been the Earl's agent in North Carolina since 1740, and 
deliver to him Granville's personal instructions for the conduct 
of his now greatly enlarged proprietary affairs. According to the 
instructions, Corbin was to be given considerable responsibilities. 
The arrival of Francis Corbin at Charleston in the winter of 1744-45 
marks the beginning of one of the stormiest political careers in 
colonial North Carolina. ^'^ 


Francis Corbin (?-1767) was born in Great Britain of unknown 
parentage, probably in the first decades of the eighteenth century. 
Research in the British Archives failed to reveal Corbin 's ancestry, 
but it now seems certain that he was not related to the promi- 
nent Thomas Corbin family of Hall End, Warwick, whose 
descendants distinguished themselves in colonial Virginia. Francis 
Corbin's early life has also remained a mystery. Circumstancial 
evidence suggests that he was from the London area, a son of 
an apparently well-to-do family. That he received a liberal 
education, however, is evident; Corbin was extremely well-read 
and an efficient and aggressive orator and epistolarian. Although 
no known portrait of Corbin survives today, his letters suggest 
that he was of slight build, perhaps even frail in nature. His travels 
throughout the vast Granville district constantly left him physically 
exhausted. Intelligent and sharp, but opinionated and outspoken, 
Corbin seems to have been either admired or detested, and his 
unsteeped ambition and political acumen evoked responses of 
both sentiments from colonial North Carolinians. ^"^ 

Receiving Earl Granville's instructions and other packets, 
Corbin departed London aboard a British Navy Man of War in 
mid-November 1744, and he probably arrived at Charleston about 
the New Year. After meeting with Governor Glenn of South 
Carolina, Corbin traveled to the Cape Fear where he met Colonel 
Edward Moseley as instructed. Corbin's letter of introduction from 
the Earl to Mosely revealed Granville's faith in Corbin: 

Mr. Corbin, who is sent with These to Mr. Mosely, is one 

I have a value for, whom I recommend to Mr. Moseley. 

He will be assistant to & act in Concert with him in my 

affairs, & when some progress shall have been made 

therein. He is to return home, & by him Mr. Moseley will 

fully inform me of all matters & I hope, be able to transmit 

to me a complete Rent Roll. What money Mr. Corbin shall 

want for the time he shall remain in North Carolina & 

on his return home, I have desired Mr. Moseley to supply 

with from time to time, taking his Receipts to the amount 

of two hundred pounds ster. charging the same to my 



The letter also specifically stated that "Mr. Corbin will avoid 
concerning himself in any disputes among the Gentlemen in 

May, 1989 19 

North Carolina," an instruction that Corbin did not heed.'"' 
Indeed, it appears from the records that Corbin and Moseley soon 
fell into disagreement over the nature of Corbin's responsibilities. 
Moseley, a proud and prominent North Carolinian, ignored 
Granville's instructions and shared his duties instead with a fellow- 
Carolinian, Robert Halton. 

As a consequence of Moseley 's defiance, Corbin found himself 
without immediate employment in North Carolina since Earl 
Granville had provided him with neither a commission nor a 
power of attorney. Granville's £200 allowance probably lasted 
for a short time, for Corbin seems to have been a man of elegant 
taste. By the winter of 1745, Corbin was forced to advertise in 
the South Carolina Gazette that he would teach reading, writing, 
and arithmetic. '1° However, successful appeals to his patron 
brought Corbin a commission the following year, when Gran- 
ville made him one of the commissioners to survey and extend 
the southern boundary of the proprietary. Corbin and the other 
commissioners surveyed the boundary line from a site at Deep 
Creek in Chatham County, where the survey had been terminated 
in 1743, to a point on Coldwater Creek in Rowan County near 
present-day Salisbury. There they were forced to discontinue their 
work because the country was so thinly populated that they could 
not obtain sufficient corn for their horses or provisions for 
themselves. ''> This was the first of many trips Corbin was to make 
across his patron's vast piedmont lands. Considerable progress 
having thus been made in the Earl's affairs, Corbin returned to 
London in early 1747 as instructed, undoubtedly to "fully inform 
Granville of all matters. "^'^ 

Very little is known about Corbin's initial three-year stay in 
North Carolina. He apparently resided in the Cape Fear region, 
associating with luminaries there such as Moseley, "King" Roger 
Moore, James Moore, Matthew Rowan, and John Swann."^ Corbin 
apparently traveled throughout much of the colony, however, 
and he must have visited Edenton, although his name does not 
appear in any of the Chowan records for the period. Corbin's 
associates, all political opponents of Governor Gabriel Johnston, 
undoubtedly influenced Corbin's subsequent opposition to the 
governor, which began almost immediately following his return 
to London. 

In London Corbin established a mercantile business for trade 
with North Carolina, and he soon became one of the leading 
figures in the London-based anti-Johnstonian forces seeking the 


governor's removal."'* In a 1748 letter to the Duke of Bedford, 
Secretary of State for the Southern Provinces, Corbin represented 
himself as a "Person interested in the Province of North 
Carolina," and assailed Johnson's performance as governor: 

From all which and other illegal Measures of the said Govt, 
the Colony is now thrown into the utmost Confusion, its 
Credit utterly destroyed, and the whole Province is become 
little better, than a Resceptacle and Asylum for Fugitives, 
and Persons of desperated Fortunes & Characters."^ 
In spite of other such character assassinations — Johnston was 
even accused of disloyalty to the Crown — the charges by Corbin 
and others came to naught as the governor presented an able 
defense."*^ What Corbin sought for himself in a Johnston dismissal 
is unknown. In any event, Granville once again became Corbin 's 
employer in October 1749; he commissioned Corbin and Thomas 
Child as his proprietary agents following the deaths of Edward 
Moseley and Robert Halton in North Carolina."^ Armed with 
powers of attorney for North Carolina and instructed by Gran- 
ville to set the proprietary affairs in order and to open a land 
office in Edenton, Corbin and Child returned to the colony in 

Both agents landed at Edenton, and Corbin apparently leased 
a plantation "several" miles from town. The exact location of 
this plantation remains unknown, but circumstancial evidence 
suggests it was just west of Edenton at the mouth of Pembroke 
Creek, and included the 156-acre "Strawberry Island" in Edenton 
Bay "opposite the town.""^ The agents worked quickly and 
opened the land office by October. In spite of the animosity 
between Gabriel Johnston and Corbin, the governor reported to 
Lord Granville in November 1750: 

Mr. Corbin has been very Industrious all this summer in 
placing the office in order and settling the accounts. He 
tells me he has now adjusted everything and hath all the 
books and papers intherein proper; he seems to have a 
head very well qualified for this sort of business. "^ 

Besides establishing Granville's land office and putting the 
Earl's affairs in order, Corbin entered a trading partnership with 
merchant-tobacco shipper John Campbell of Bertie County, a 
successful merchant in the Albemarle Region. ^^o gy jj^^ spring 

May, 1989 21 

of 175 1 , as Child was planning a return to London, Corbin stood 
to become the Earl's sole resident agent. This situation was dis- 
cussed by Governor Johnston in a letter to Granville of 5 March: 

One of your Lords' agents [Child] takes his final leave of 

this province next June, and so all the business will of 

course fall unto the hands of the other [Corbin]. What 

that Gentleman's Fortune or Credit may be at Home I 

don't pretend to know, but unless both are tolerably good 

I am afraid he will be pretty much puzzled to make regular 

remittances, for I am told he is engaged in shipping and 

trade with Campbell and some others and that he has just 

bought a pretty deal of plate, four or five negroes, and 

lately all Mr. Child's Books and Furniture which in all must 

amount to about £400 by a very modest computation . . . 

but to do this Gentleman justice, I must add that he has 

brought your Lordships Office into most excellent order. 

He has sorted all the papers and brought up the books 

and settled all the accounts in a most clear and diligent 
manner. '21 

It should be noted that Johnston warned the Earl regarding 
Corbin 's financial security and ability to make regular remittances, 
sensible advice in light of Corbin's eminent succession to a most 
lucrative office. Following Thomas Child's departure, Corbin did 
indeed assume full control of the Earl's affairs; although Corbin 
later was joined by a succession of co-agents, he remained the 
principal proprietary agent resident in the colony during the 
following decade. 

As mentioned. Earl Granville reserved to himself all the rights 
of ownership to his 1/8 share of North Carolina when the Lords 
Proprietors sold the sovereignty of the colony back to the Crown 
in 1728. Granville hoped to utilize this enormous tract of land 
as a source of revenue by renting small tracts of it to various 
tenants, charging them a fee for the surveying and issuing of the 
land grant and then a quit rent for the purpose of occupying the 
land for cultivation. 122 if it had functioned as planned, the land 
policy would have contributed mightily to Granville's fortune. 
In addition to the principal land office in Edenton, other 
"frontier" offices were later established at Enfield, "Corbinton" 
(now Hillsborough), and Salisbury. Corbin hired numerous agents 
to issue warrants, survey, and register grants. Corbin himself 


apparently made annual trips across the Granville District, final- 
izing land grants and collecting outstanding fees. Since more than 
sixty thousand settlers moved into piedmont North Carolina 
during the 1750s, Granville's land agency prospered f??st and 
grew increasingly larger. It is not surprising that the agency soon 
attracted those who apparently were more interested in lining their 
pockets with quit rents rather than the Earl's. By the late 1750s 
the Granville land agency was fraught with corruption, and Francis 
Corbin, as the Earl's principal resident agent, became the natural 
target of complaints by the Granville district's increasingly 
disgruntled settlers; this situation eventually led to the Enfield 
Riot of 1759 and the birth of the Regulator movements that 
culminated at the Battle of Alamance in 1771.'^^ 

The early 1750s, however, were quite prosperous and virtually 
untroubled for Corbin and his patron, although the Earl did warn 
Corbin to be "diligent and careful ('for your own sake') and to 
make doubly sure that all business transactions were handled 
"with order and requisite decency. "1^4 in the late summer of 
1752 Corbin successfully managed Granville's sale of 98,000 acres 
to the Moravians, eliciting a favorable view of Corbin by Bishop 
Spangenberg, the emissary of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf: 

I have had the opportunity to spend several hours 
conversing with Mr. Corbin. He is very busy, being not 
only My Lord Granville's agent but also Judge of the Court 
of Admiralty and of the Supreme Court, not to speak of 
other employments; however, almost every day I have 
spent some hours with him, which was to my advantage. 
He is a walking Encyclopedia concerning North Carolina 
affairs, is capable, polite, and very obliging. ... In short 
I think My Lord Granville has in him a capable agent, the 
Governor a wise councilor, and the land a just Judge. Our 
humble Respects to My Lord Granville for his recommen- 
dations to this man, who, so far as I can judge, is an honor 
to him. '25 

By virtue of his commission as a proprietary agent, Corbin 
was given numerous appointments in North Carolina's royal 
government, serving at one time or another as a member of the 
Governor's Council, judge of the court of vice-admiralty, an 
associate justice in the colony's general court system, colonel of 
the Chowan Military Militia, and a justice in Chowan's court of 

May, 1989 23 

pleas and quarter sessions. In connection with his duties as 
Granville's land agent, Corbin was also commissioned a justice 
of the peace for any and all of the counties located in or created 
from the Earl's lands. '^*^ Corbin 's political influence therefore was 
considerable. He quickly came into conflict with North Carolina's 
new Royal Governor, Arthur Dobbs, over a number of issues, 
including his own conduct as agent to Earl Granville. In fact, 
the ambitious Corbin and obstreperous Dobbs waged political 
war on each other throughout the late 1750s, and if Corbin 
thought Dobbs was too old and anile — Dobbs was sixty-six years 
of age when he arrived in the colony in 1754 — he was sorely 
mistaken. Following an attack by Corbin on his character in 1755, 
Dobbs briskly wrote Lord Granville: 

However since Mr. Corbin has been pleased to attack my 
character unjustly, your Lordship must allow me to 
acquaint you to the character he bears here, and part of 
his management of your Lordships affairs and his conduct 
as one of the council. First it is said that there is no 
dependence on his veracity or belief to be given to his 
word, that for his own ends he is often guilty of 
misrepresentation and declaring of untruths, and he has 
occasioned much coldness between him and his neighbors 
and with many gentlemen in the country . . . and [he] 
expects to be allowed great liberties as being your Lord- 
ships agent. . . .As to his management of your Lordship's 
affairs, he carries it with a high hand to the claimant of 
warrants for lands; he fixed his office at Col. Haywoods' 
in Edgecombe County for all warrants and deeds, and no 
person is to be admitted but through Col. Haywood or 
his sons, for which money must be paid ... to gain his 
friendship . . . and no person knows what fees are 

As principal resident agent, Corbin was held accountable for 
the abuses that were practiced on the Earl's tenants by his 
lieutenants, who often charged excessive fees and made illegal 
and arbitrary decisions regarding disputed land claims. Granville 
himself apparently had no inkling at first of any trouble regarding 
his land agency; he wrote Corbin in the summer of 1754: "I am 
well satisfied in your conduct and diligence in my affairs . . . 
the accounts and papers . . . give me an agreeable proof of your 


zeal and diligence in my service that you have singly gone through 
so much business and so well dispatched it J^^ The depredations 
of Corbin's agents steadily worsened in the following years, 
however, and in November 1758 Edgecombe representative 
William Williams petitioned the General Assembly to inquire 
into the conduct of Francis Corbin and his co-agent at the time, 
Joshua Bodley. Less than two months later, an investigative 
committee roundly condemned the unjust exactions of the 
Granville land agency, calling the situation "deplorable" and 
censuring Corbin and Bodley for "neglect and misconduct. ' ' The 
assembly, however, adjourned without any redress against Corbin, 
which greatly enraged many of the inhabitants of the Granville 
District and apparently provoked the rumor that Corbin had 
escaped indictment because he was a bastard son of Earl Gran- 
ville. '^^ By early 1759 the Granville District, particularly 
Edgecombe, Halifax, and Granville counties, seethed with ill will 
towards the Earl and his proprietary underlings, and in particular 
towards Corbin. The Earl's tenants were not alone in their 
disgruntlement at the time, for Corbin had managed quite 
successfully to offend and upset a number of individuals with 
considerable political influence in the colony's affairs during the 
previous two years. He had reported to Granville that Dobbs was 
granting proprietary lands illegally, and he made an enemy of 
the powerful land speculator Henry Eustace McCuUoch by issuing 
patents on a tract of McCulloch's land. McCulloch assailed Corbin 
as a man of ' 'sordid. Wicked and Avaricious intention" and filed 
suit against him for over 8,000 in "damages. "^^° 

Public action against Corbin was taken on the night of 24 
January 1759, when Colonel Alexander McCulloch, with an extra- 
legal posse of about twenty men from the Edgecombe region, 
aroused by "the felicituos use of ardent liquors," as Corbin put 
it, seized the agent at his plantation just outside Edcnton and 
forcibly carried him off to his Enfield office some seventy miles 
inland in Edgecombe (now Halifax) County; there the "traitorous 
rioters" held Corbin and his co-agent, Joshua Bodley, under 
armed guard until they agreed to a number of concessions for 
land policy reformation. After signing a bond which guaranteed 
his appearance at the next spring term of the Superior Court — 
where and when he was to refund all unjust fees taken from the 
people — Corbin was released by his captors unharmed. Almost 
gleefully, Governor Dobbs reported the incident to the Board 
of Trade. 1^1 

May, 1989 25 

Immediately after his release, Corbin began to take steps to 
prosecute the rioters, and he managed to persuade Dobbs to offer 
a reward for the capture of his abductors. A number of rioters 
were arrested and jailed at Enfield, but the jail was broken open 
soon afterward by another "Mob" and the prisoners set free as 
emotions continued to run high in Edgecombe. ^^^ Corbin, 
however, continued his efforts to prosecute the rioters, until his 
friend Robert Jones, then the colony's attorney general, warned 
that if matters came to trial Corbin would be the principal sufferer, 
since he could not justify some of his actions, and that the fault 
would undoubtedly be laid to the charge of Corbin 's agency. The 
Enfield Riot, as it came to be called, was fraught with other 
disastrous results for Corbin as well. Bsides being unsuccessful 
in his attempt to bring the ringleaders to justice, Corbin was 
stripped of all his Crown offices, including his council seat, by 
Governor Dobbs, who undoubtedly had been waiting for such 
an incident to use against Corbin. Corbin also was dismissed from 
the service of Lord Granville, who removed his protection and 
revoked his power of attorney to Corbin on 25 April 1759-^^^ Thus 
rejected by the leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, Francis 
Corbin's political associations with the Crown and North 
Carolina's royal government came to an abrupt end. 

Corbin, ever the shrewd politician, nevertheless managed to 
get himself elected to the General Assembly the very next year 
as a representative of his home county, Chowan, where his repu- 
tation apparently was not touched materially by the Enfield Riot 
episode. Once in the assembly, Corbin joined with Thomas Child, 
Robert Jones, and Thomas Barker — a group that Dobbs labeled 
the "Northern Junto" since they all had extensive interests in 
Granville's proprietary lands — in opposing the administration 
of the governor at every opportunity.'^^ Indeed, by the summer 
of 1760 Corbin had sufficiently aroused the General Assembly 
with his own version of the Enfield Riot that the assembly, 
"greatly shocked at the traitorous conspiracies of the rioters and 
at the arrest of the gentle Corbin," condemned Governor Dobbs 
for failing to put down the "mobs, riots and insurrections that 
prevailed. "'^5 Xhis remarkable turnabout by the assembly — it 
had condemned Corbin's conduct as Granville's agent 
"deplorable" just eighteen months before — serves as a testament 
to Corbin's considerable political skills. Corbin continued to repre- 
sent Chowan County in the General Assembly from April 1760 
to May 1765; and on 19 March 1763, he was restored by Dobbs 


to his position as a justice in tlie colony's tiighest court of law, 
with a commission as associate justice on the bench of the Eden- 
ton District Superior Court. Corbin's remarkable political com- 
eback was completed after the death of his old adversary Dobbs, 
when new Royal Governor William Tryon proposed in 1766 to 
readmit Corbin to the Governor's Council. '^'^ Corbin did not have 
the opportunity to resume his council duties, however, as a severe 
illness brought about his death in early 1767. 

Although Corbin apparently preformed all of his govern- 
mental duties exceptionally well, his negligent administration of 
Earl Granville's proprietary affairs has not endeared him to poster- 
ity. Indeed, North Carolina historians generally have portrayed 
Corbin as a perfect example of the corrupt colonial official, who, 
in the words of one historian, "grew fat upon the extortions of 
his subordinates. "^^^ Historians have also charged on numerous 
occasions that Corbin and the other proprietary agents, particularly 
Thomas Child, sought to defraud Earl Granville through a series 
of complex conspiracies, and that although these conspiracies never 
quite worked as planned, the agents nevertheless grew rich as 
neither fees nor remittances of any importance were sent to 
Granville. ^-^^ While it is undeniable that the continual transfer 
of money from agent to agent and thence to Granville certainly 
invited embezzlement, proprietary correspondence reveals that 
large-sum remittances to Granville were made regularly. If Corbin 
or any of the other agents were guilty of embezzlement, they 
evidently did not pocket the enormous sums that often have been 
suggested. '-"^^ Another historian perhaps best summarized Corbin's 
political career when she wrote that ' 'we are not sure that [Corbin] 
did anything strictly illegal; but at the same time it is difficult 
to avoid the conclusion that he was deficient in some of the 
qualities that make for moral uprightness and political 

Corbin's primary residence throughout much of his career 
seems to have been his Chowan County plantation located 
"several" miles from Edenton, the exact location of which is 
unknown. There are many but vague references to it throughout 
the records. Some refer to it as "two or three miles" from town; 
one letter mentions "Mr. Corbin's House five miles from 
Edenton"; and Governor Dobbs often referred to it as "near 
Edenton," or "several miles from Edenton. "^'^^ The Corbin 
plantation apparently was located at the mouth of Pembroke 
Creek, but Corbin also acquired large tracts of land on the "west 

May, 1989 27 

side of Queen Anne's Creek," and on the "northeast shore of 
the Chowan River," making it difficult to determine which was 
Corbin's manor plantation. ^"^^ Records indicate Corbin worked 
these plantations with a total of thirty to forty-five slaves. ^'^^ 

On 19 April 1756 Corbin purchased the Cupola House and 
its lot from Thomas Barker for "£61.5.0 Proclamation Money." 
The deed described the lot as: 

. . . one lot and parcel of land situate and lying and being 
in Edenton known and distinguished in the new plan of 
the said town by the number or figure one (1) containing 
one-half acre & all Houses Buildings and Gardens. . . .'^^ 

Figure 4. Serving table, Edenton, 1743-33, mahogany with red cedar frame. 
HOA 23 1/8", W'OA 27 1/8", DOA 18 3/4". MRF S-3034. 



Corbin may have leased the stmcture and lot from Thomas Barker, 
one of the attorneys representing the estate of William Morton, 
prior to the purchase. Deed records show that Corbin did not 
own any town property at the time, but he was under pressure 
from Granville and Thomas Child during this period to establish 
a "proper land office" in town; apparently Corbin conducted 
most of the Earl's land business through the "frontier" offices, 
keeping most of the records at his plantation outside of town. '"^^ 
Following Child's return to London in June 1751, Granville wrote 

Mr. Child having represented to me the necessity of having 
a proper office in Edenton for the safe lodgement of my 
papers & records and for your transacting my business with 
decency and order; I would therefore have you forthwith 
purchase some convenient lott in that town for me and 
my heirs and provide bricks and other materials and that 
the same may be set about as soon as the season of the 
year will allow. I would have one part of the house allotted 
for the clerks office with proper conveniences and the other 
to serve as an apartment for yourselves where you may 
commodiously transact my affairs with necessary and secure 
accommodations for the reception of my papers. And for 
this you may expand and charge my account about 80 to 
100 sterling, but not to exceed that sum.^"^^ 

By April 1756, however, Corbin had not purchased a lot or built 
a "proper office" as instructed; on 18 April, just one day before 
Corbin purchased the Cupola House and its lot. Lord Granville 
wrote Corbin tersely that he was to erect "such an office out of 
[monies on] hand" and that it was to "be commodious, and made 
as secure as possible against fire and other accidents. ' ' ^^^ Chowan 
deed records, however, show that Corbin never purchased a lot 
in the name of Granville and his heirs, and he apparently never 
built the "proper office" that Lord Granville desired. The Cupola 
House would have provided Corbin with a prominent town 
location on the waterfront to "commodiously transact" his 
patrons. If that was the case, one of the lot's various outbuildings 
shown on Sauthier's 1769 Plan of Edenton could have served as 
a land office. 

Four months after his purchase of the Cupola House, Corbin 
acquired title to the water lot directly opposite the dwelling from 

May, 1989 29 

the town commissioners for ten shillings. ^^"^ The deed contained 
the usual provision that Corbin "improve" the lot within two 
years, which he did by erecting a large private wharf in Edenton 
Bay soon afterward. This deed referred to "Francis Corbin of 
Edenton," suggesting that Corbin was already resident. However, 
the condition and state of the Cupola House at the time Corbin 
purchased the dwelling is unknown. The low purchase price of 
£61.5.0 seems to suggest that the building perhaps was out of 

Figure 5. Gaming table, attributed to Edenton, 1750-15, mahogany with walnut 
gate frame, red oak inner frame. HOA 26 7/8", WOA 30 3/4", DOA 31 1/8" 
open. I^AESDA ace. 2720. 



Figure 6. irnting table, attributed to Eden ton. 1750-75. mahogany with oak 
drawer frames and yellow ptne bottoms, back, and inner framing. HO A 28 
7/8". W'OA 36 5/8". DOA 24 1/2". MESDA ace. 3273. 

repair; yet it must be remembered that Corbin purchased the 
Cupola House from a good friend who represented clients living 
in Great Britain that had never seen the dwelling and who 
probably had no idea of the structure's real value. The purchase 
price itself therefore may not have been truly indicative of the 
condition of the Cupola House at that time. Editor's note: as 
in the earlier instance, it was felt appropriate to add further 
information about current property values, as follows. Some 
properties in Edenton sold for a good deal less than Corbin's 
expenditure during the same period. For example, in July 1753 
the cabinetmaker John Henry Rombough sold Samuel Davis lots 
85 and 86 in the New Plan, with dwellings, "houses," outhouses, 
and fences for a mere i.G:A.:G. However, in the spring of 1755 
Susanna Cockburne sold George Dishbrow lots 2,3, and 4 in 
the New Plan, with "houses" and other features, for £198:3:0. 
In the same year that Corbin bought the Cupola House, Thomas 
Harrison, a merchant of Suffolk, Virginia, sold another Suffolk 
man lots 3 and 4 in the Old Plan, with houses, outhouses, and 

May, 1989 


other appurtenances, for £208. These are representantive sale 
prices during the decade, ranging from low to high. In 1756, 
North CaroHna currency was worth approximately 56 percent of 
a pound sterling. Although it is not stated in the deed, the Corbin 
purchase probably was in provincial money, indicating that he 
purchased the house and lot for only about £34:5 sterling. Four 
years later, in Williamsburg, the dwelling of James Geddy, Sr. 
was sold by his widow for 100 Virginia currency to James Geddy, 
Jr., the silversmith. At that time, the house consisted of a four- 
bay story-and-a-half structure, which now stands in a largely 
reconstructed state on Duke of Gloucester Street. At current 
exchange, the Geddy property sold for approximately £71 
sterling. ^^^ 

Figure 7. Stair spandrel, George Blair house, Edenton. Blair probably built his 
house in Eden Alley before 1763; he died in 1769- The house was razed to 
make room for a medical clinic in 1937, but before it was destroyed, three of 
its rooms were salvaged and installed in MESDA. The carving was executed 
by the same cabinetmaker who produced the tables in figs. 5. 6, and 9- 

The structure presumably would have been in good upkeep 
if Corbin was renting it prior to the purchase. Although the nature 
of possible repairs to the house made by Corbin is unknown, he 
commissioned the construction of a wharf, which apparently was 
completed by September 1758. It is thought by some that Corbin 
probably had the building thoroughly remodeled to suit his taste; 
in her 1965 report on the Cupola House for the Chowan County 
Historical Commission, Miss Moore reasoned that: 



The interior trim of the Cupola House presents a special 
problem. Judging by all the deeds up through the time 
of Corbin's purchase, the house could hardly have been 
considered extraordinary. Surely Dr. John Brickell's 
description of the town in 1731 would have made a special 
mention of a house as fine as this was when Corbin died, 
and surely his silence indicates that it was not so fine 
then. . . . Corbin bought the place at the lowest price in 
its history . . . and after his death all his other Edenton 
property had to be sold to pay a debt of £211.6.0 still 
owing to a carpenter named Robert Kirshaw . . . the 
Cupola House woodwork implies an owner with the taste 
to want it, the money to pay for it (eventually), and the 
reasonable explanation of enjoying it. The documentary 
evidence points straight to Francis Corbin. '"^^ 

Regardless of Corbin's possible alterations of the Cupola 
House, he was quite wealthy, owning as mentioned various tracts 
of land throughout Chowan County and thirty to forty slaves. '^° 
In addition, Corbin received what was described as a "handsome 
and liberal allowance" from Earl Granville during his years as 
proprietary agent, and he received generous fees for his other 
governmental duties as well.'^' Little is known about Corbin's 
mercantile partnership with John Campbell, but it may be 
assumed that it was also profitable, given Campbell's business 
acumen and reputation throughout the colony.'" Corbin, 
therefore, had the ability to furnish the Cupola House modishly. 

Editor's note: Corbin's furnishings are important to the 
understanding of his taste and wealth, and for this and other 
reasons, we add the following analysis of his household goods 
to Mr. Cheese man 's study. The " Acct Sales of the Estate of Francis 
Corbin deceased Sold at Public Vendue at Edenton the 20th of 
September 1758" is quite revealing in regard to just how modish 
Corbin was. We may assume that most of his furniture was locally 
made, and that he had begun to bespeak work with Edenton 
artisans not long after his 1750 arrival in the town. The total sale 
value of the contents of the Cupola House and its outbuildings 
was £336:12:10. This sum included 24 slaves, two horses, and 
a riding chair. Also sold were a great variety of items, including 
over seventy books and a "Parcel French Books." Corbin's library 
was fairly typical of a well-to-do gentleman of the time, including 
the works of Virgil, Pliny, Shakespeare, Descartes, and others. 

May, 1989 33 

Figure 8. Armchair, attributed to Edenton, 1743-63, mahogany with beech 
rear rail, cypress glue blocks, beech slip seat. HO A 39 1/4", WO A 26 1/4" 
at knee, IV' at feet. MESDA ace. 2418. 

along with various histories, compilations of laws, religious 
treatises, and popular novels such as Don Quixote and Gil Bias. 
He owned no books of architecture. He owned a Latin dictionary 
and two French grammars. In all, the library reveals a man who 
was well educated. 

Household movables consisted of an array of objects predict- 
able for an Albemarle household of the period and level of wealth. 



Corbin owned 33 pewter plates, 14 dishes of the same metal, 
28 china plates, 7 dishes, and a bowl, all presumably of porcelain. 
Of silver, he had two waiters, a bread basket, a punchbowl, a 
tankard, a coffee pot, and a dozen spoons. Some of these items 
were quite substantial. The basket sold for over £18, and the bowl 
for £19:13, in both instances indicating large size and heavy 
weight. A "Head of Grotius" along with a similar bust of the 
Bishop of Winchester, both probably casts, were included in the 
amenities of the house. A dressing glass, four looking glasses, 
and a small pier glass very likely represented imported wares, along 
with twenty "pictures." Four pairs of andirons, three fenders, 
four candlesticks, a generous completement of kitchen furniture, 
gardening implements, a "Blunderbuss" and four fowlers, a 
"parcel of old cudasses," and various other household items made 
up the balance of the accessories. 

Figure 9. Dining table, attnbuted to Edenton, 1730-73. walnut with oak gate 
frame, yellow pine inner frame. HOA 27 13/15". W'OA 42 718". DOA 43" 
open. MRF S-4623. 

Corbin's actual household furniture consisted of "8 arm 
mahogany chairs" which sold for £8: 15: 10, 2 "square Mahogany 
tables" at £4, a "round" mahogany tea table at 2, 2 beds with 
furniture, one at 9 and the other at £18: 16, two dressmg tables, 

May, 1989 


Figure 10. Tea table, one of a pair, Eden ton. 1750-80, mahogany. HO A 27 
3/8". diameter of top 30 1/4". MRF S-12.173. 

one at £3 and the other at £2:1, a desk at £5:5 and a desk-and- 
bookcase at £15, 19 side chairs, 13 of which were described as 
"walnut," two "smoking" chairs, a "close stool chair" which 
sold for £2:15, a "small square table," an "old table," a "large 
round Mahogany table" worth £2:13:6, and a "candle Stand" 
which sold for £0:6:6. Shown here are ten examples of Edenton 
furniture of the 1750-70 period that are representative of the sort 
of pieces which Corbin might have owned, although a serving 
table (fig. 4), card table (fig. 5), and writing table (fig. 6) such 
as those illustrated are not reflected on the inventory. The card 
table is one of a pair originally owned by Robert Jones, one of 
Corbin's principal agents. The cabinetmaker who produced Jones' 
tables had earlier carved the stair hall (fig. 7) of the c. 1764 house 
of merchant George Blair, who purchased Corbin's candle stand. 
The "8 arm mahogany chairs" are well represented by the 
example in fig. 8, which indeed was originally one of a set of 
armchairs. The "2 square mahogany tables" very likely indicated 



a matched pair of dining tables such as that in fig. 9. "Square" 
in early inventories often actually meant "rectangular," and sets 
of dining tables were common in the Albemarle. The "round 
mahogany tea table" was purchased by Samuel Johnston, who 
almost certainly owned the Edenton table shown in fig. 10, 
although Johnston's table illustrated here is one of a pair. Corbin's 
walnut side chairs very likely followed familiar local work that 

Figure 11. Side chair, Edenton, 1755-75, mahogany with yellow pine. HO A 
37 1/4", WO A 20 1/8". MRF S-8483 . 

May, 1989 


was executed in a conservative version of the Chinese taste, as 
we see in figs. 11 and 12. The "smoking" chairs were corner 
chairs; the example illustrated in fig. 13 was owned by Samuel 
Dickinson, who purchased the house in 1777. The "close stool 
chair" would have been similar to the smoking chairs, but with 
a much deeper skirt. Although a simple affair, the Edenton 

Figure 12. Side chair, Edenton, 1760-90, walnut with cypress and yellow pine 
blocks. HO A 37 5/8", W'OA 20 3/4", DO A 13 11/16". MRF S-3007. This 
chair descended in the family of Samuel Dickinson, the doctor who purchased 
the Cupola House from the estate of Francis Corbin in 1777. 



dressing tabic in fig. 14 could well have answered Corbin's sale 
description, judging from the modest £2:1 that one table brought. 

Figure 13- Corner chair. Edenton, 1760-90. wahmt with white pine slip- seat 
support, poplar front block. HOA U 1/16". W'OA 18 11/16". MRFS-3008. 
This chair has the same history as that illustrated in fig. 12. 

Corbin maintained a staff of four to six slaves on the 
premises. '^-^ He no doubt found the Cupola House ideally 
situated, being just over a block from the courthouse where Corbin 
sat as an assistant justice, and its location on Edenton's water- 
front, with its own private wharf, allowed Corbin ready access 
to water transportation as well. 

Despite his poor relations with the inhabitants west of the 
Chowan River and with Governor Dobbs, Corbin was respected 
and apparently held in high esteem by his contemporaries in 
Edenton and Chowan County. As we have seen, the freeholders 
sent him to the General Assembly as their representative during 

May, 1989 


four consecutive years in the early 1760s; Reverend James Moir 
of Edenton, commenting on the political struggle between Dobbs 
and Corbin, wrote in 1763: 

His excellency [Gov. Dobbs] seems to have a natural anti- 
pathy to everyone that acts uprightly in a public office. 
Mr. Francis Corbin, the Earl of Granville's Agent in this 
Province, I dare say acted conscientiously. I had frequent 
opportunity of observing him; His Excellency appointed 
a General Assembly at Edenton to demolish the said 
Corbin, but his efforts proved ineffectual . . . .^^^ 

An Anglican, Corbin was prominent in the affairs of St. Paul's 
Church, serving as a vestryman and lay reader during the 1750s. '^^ 
Corbin repeatedly promised to use his influence to have the church 

Figure 14. Side table, attributed to Chowan River basin, 1740-60, walnut with 
cypress. HOA 27 1/2", WOA 27 1/8", DOA 20 3/4". MRF S-4150. 



building completed; construction had begun in 1736. Corbin 
failed to accomplish much with this; the church, however, was 
completed except for a tower in 1760.^^^ Personally, Corbin 
referred to himself as the "Honorable Francis Corbin, Esquire 
and Gentleman." His health was poor, perhaps affected by 
Edenton's climate, and he was apparently often ill for long 
durations. Corbin mentioned in a letter to Lord Granville of 18 
February 1754 that: "I have been in a bad state of health for 
a considerable time past. ..." and one month later he wrote: 
"This has been the most sickly and mortal season for many years; 
near one-half of the people in & about here [Edenton] are dead; 
two & three out of a house, and some whole families; and our 
misfortune is, the disorder is not yet over."'" After an illness 
of over three months, Corbin recovered, writing Granville on 13 
April: "I thank God I begin to recover my health. ..." However, 
Corbin was so weakened by the unidentified sickness that he could 
not make the circuit ride out to Enfield, Hillsborough, and 
Salisbury that summer. '^^ 

In October 1761 Francis Corbin married Jean Innes of New 
Hanover County, the widow of Colonel James Innes (d. 1759) 
who had served briefly as one of Corbin's co-agents prior to his 
distinguished service in the French and Indian war. '^^ Jean Innes 
was apparently many years Corbin's senior, and she was described 
by a contemporary as "not of the best character or most amiable 
manners. ""'O She was, however, very wealthy. The Innes plan- 
tation. Point Pleasant, stood on a magnificent bluff overlooking 
the Cape Fear River, and it consisted of over 1,600 acres along 
the river banks, worked by 100 slaves.'^' The shrewd Mrs. Innes 
retained control of this estate, as specified by the terms of a lengthy 
pre-nuptial agreement between Corbin and herself which stated 
that Point Pleasant was to be "for her separate use and benefit 
exclusive of the said Francis Corbin . . . the same in any part 
thereof shall not be subject ot the control, disposition, debts, 
forfitures, engagements, incumbrances, or contracts of the said 
Francis Corbin her intended husband. ""^^ Likewise, Corbin kept 
exclusive control of his Chowan estate, but upon his death the 
estate was to descend to "the use and behalf of the said Jean 
Innes his intended wife for and during the term of her natural 
life.""'^ After her death the estate was to revert to Corbin's heirs. 
The agreement also specified that the Cupola House be rented 
out during the absence of the Corbins, and later records reveal 
that Dr. Walter Ferguson, a prominent Edenton physician of the 

May, 1989 41 

1760s and 1770s, managed Corbin's Chowan estate while Corbin 
was at Point Pleasant. However, no rental records concerning the 
Cupola House were found. Corbin himself was often in Edenton 
during 1761-65, and he presumably stayed at the Cupola House 
when in town.'^^ After 1765 Corbin spent most of his time at 
Point Pleasant; he died there in early 1767. According to Janet 
Schaw, a visitor to Point Pleasant in the 1770s, he was buried 
at the bottom of the lawn on the plantation, not far from the 
grave of Colonel Innes.'^^ 

Corbin died before making a last will and testament, and his 
wife qualified as administratrix on 27 October 1767, giving 
security of £5,000 "for the true administration of the estate. "'^^ 
Although most of Francis Corbin's estate records have not 
survived, it appears that the estate carried a certain burden of 
debt, and Mrs. Corbin received permission from the court on 24 
June 1768 to "sell so much of the said deceased's personal estate 
as will pay his just debts. "'^■' During that summer Jean Corbin 
repeatedly advertised the upcoming estate sale in the Virginia 
Gazette. '^^^ One sale was held on Tuesday, 20 September 1768 
and an additional sale was conducted on 3 November. The 
numerous items in Corbin's personal estate, including 26 slaves, 
were sold for over £1,200. The account of the sale reveals that 
Edenton's and Chowan's most prominent citizens attended the 
auction, which was held on the grounds of the Cupola House 
lot. Samuel Johnston came from Hayes, Joseph Blount from 
Mulberry Hill, Richard Brownrigg from Wingfield, Daniel Earle 
from Brandon. Among the Edentonians at the sale were Joseph 
Hewes, Jasper Charlton, and George Blair. '^^ The Cupola House 
once again stood vacant, destined to serve as Jean Corbin's rental 
property. The occupancy of the Cupola House's most controversial 
owner had come to an end. 

Although Edenton lost the honor of being the seat of the 
colony's government to New Bern in 1746, the town prospered 
greatly during the years the Cupola House served as Corbin's 
townhouse. At the eve of the American Revolution the town 
consisted of approximately 177 dwellings and a diverse contingent 
of artisans. The waterfront seethed with activity. Edenton's 
thriving maritime commerce attracted money and men of 
influence, and a significant amount of construction took place 
during this period.'""^ 

In June 1769 C. J. Sauthier, a French cartographer commis- 
sioned by Governor William Tryon to prepare a series of maps 


of North Carolina's towns, completed a map of Edenton. The 
detailed plan shows that Edenton extended back about eight 
blocks north from the waterfront; the map clearly depicts the 
Cupola House and its lot. Six outbuildings are shown upon the 
half-acre lot, four standing behind the house on the north and 
two in front. The largest building, probably the kitchen, stood 
immediately to the rear of the Cupola House, juxtaposed at a 
right angle with the northwest side of the house. Later records 
indicate that the kitchen was a large two-story brick structure, 
and the servant's quarters were probably located on the second 
floor above the cooking area. Part of this structure, or one of the 
other dependencies, may also have served as a coach house, as 
Mrs. Corbin's inventory later listed a "pleasure carriage" in storage 
at Edenton. 1^' Immediately behind the kitchen stood two much 
smaller structures, perhaps a privy and a smokehouse. A small 
dependency, perhaps an office, also stood in the center of the 
lot on King Street. On the southern portion of the lot in front 
of the Cupola House, Sauthier depicted a garden area running 
the length of the lot south to Water Street, where two small 
buildings stood on the southeast and southwest corners of the 
lot. Across Water Street was the lot's wharf, jutting into Edenton 
Bay. In all, the Cupola House must have been a profitable piece 
of rental property for Jean Corbin during the late 1760s and early 

As administratrix of her late husband's financially troubled 
estate, Jean Innes Corbin became involved in a number of 
lawsuits, as both plaintiff and defendant, while attempting to 
settle the estate. ^^^ One of these lawsuits is of particular interest 
to the debate surrounding the question of whether or not Francis 
Corbin extensively remodeled the Cupola House. In November 
1770 Robert Kirshaw, an Edenton carpenter, filed suit against 
"Jean Corbin, administratrix of all & Singular the Goods Chatties 
Rights & Credits which were of Francis Corbin, Esquire, deceased" 
seeking to recover "six hundred pounds Proclamation Money 
which to him she owes."'^^ Little is known of Robert Kirshaw, 
who died in 1772. His name first appears in the Chowan County 
records about 1749-50, and he seems to have been a man of very 
modest means. Apparently illiterate, Kirshaw did not own any 
real property in Edenton or Chowan County. '^'' Nothing is known 
of his work, except that he was not a well-known artisan in the 
area. His name does not appear in newspaper advertisements or 
apprentice indentures. In any event, "Robert Kirshaw vs. Francis 

May, 1989 43 

Corbin's Adm." came before the Edenton District Superior Court 
on 5 May 1772, and a twelve-man jury awarded Kirshaw 
211.6.0.'^^ The court minutes, however, unfortunately do not 
discuss the nature of Corbin's debt to Kirshaw, and Robert 
Kirshaw's deposition apparently has not survived. Since Kirshaw 
was not engaged in any known business transactions with Corbin 
other than possible carpentry work, the suit suggests that Kirshaw 
indeed performed services of that trade for which he was never 
paid. It is possible, then, that Corbin commissioned Kirshaw to 
renovate the Cupola House and build the lot's wharf. Unfor- 
tunately, surviving documentary sources provide no description 
of Kirshaw's presumed work. As a result of the jury's verdict, 
Jean Corbin was forced to sell several tracts of Francis Corbin's 
Chowan County lands, including the plantation at the mouth 
of Pembroke Creek and Strawberry Island, to raise the money 
needed to pay Kirshaw, who died shortly after winning the suit.'^<^ 
Jean Corbin died at Point Pleasant in 1775, and ownership 
of the Cupola House reverted to Francis Corbin's next-of-kin as 
stipulated by the marriage agreement of October 1761.'^^ During 
the eight years (1767-75) the Cupola House was solely owned by 
Jean Corbin, it apparently served as rental property, as nothing 
in the records even suggests that Mrs. Corbin ever utilized the 
house for herself. No records were found, however, that reveal 
details regarding leases of the Cupola House during the period. 
After Jean Corbin's death, administration of Francis Corbin's 
estate was granted to Edmund Corbin, apparently Corbin's 
brother, who therefore qualified as his next-of-kin.'^^ A 
Wilmington merchant and loyalist, Edmund Corbin sold the 
Cupola House and its lot and adjoining water lot and wharf to 
Dr. Samuel Dickinson on 7 February 1777 for £400. The deed 
description read: 

... a certain lott or half acre of land together with the 
water lott wharf Houses tenaments Buildings and Appur- 
tenances and Improvements situate lying & being in the 
Town of Edenton in Plan of said Town known and distin- 
quished by Lott No. 1. . . .'^^ 

The significantly increased purchase price reflected the value of 
the water lot and wharf, the initial stages of Revolutionary War 
inflation, and possible improvements to the property by Corbin. 
Like Corbin, Samuel Dickinson was also a prominent and con- 


troversial figure during his lifetime; the Cupola House was to 
serve as the residence of his family and descendants for the ensuing 
14 1 years. 


1. See, among others, Thomas Tileston Waterman and Frances Benjamin 
Johnston, The Early Architecture of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: Univer- 
sity of North Carolina Press, 1941); Henry Chandlee Forman, The Architec- 
ture of the Old South: The Medieval Style. iJSJ-iSJO (Cambridge, Mass: 
Harvard University Press, 1948); Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Dwell- 
ings of Colonial America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolma Press, 
1950); Hugh Morrison, Early American Architecture: From the First Colonial 
Settlements to the National Period (^e^ York: Oxford University Press, 
1952); John V. AUcott, Colonial Homes in North Carolina (Raleigh, N. 
C: Carolina Tercentary Commission, 1963); Lawrence Wodehouse, 
Architecture in North Carolina. 1700-1900 (Raleigh, N. C: North Carolina 
Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1970). 

2. On 10 March 1918 ten citizens of Edenton and the surrounding community 
met "to organize an association for the purchase and preservation of the 
Cupola House, and the Cupola House Library and Museum Association 
was then organized as a stock company. Effons to preserve four other historic 
buildings in North Carolina predate the formation of the Cupola House 
Association; however, these were the work of either previously organized 
groups or various local chapters of national organizations. The Cupola House 
Association was the first community-organized agency established to save 
a specific structure in North Carolina. Minutes of the Cupola House 
Association, 1918-49, 1; Cupola House Association files, Edenton; A. L. 
Honeycutt. Jr., Supervisor, Restoration and Preservation Services Branch, 
Archaeology and Historic Preservation Section, State Division of Archives 
and History, inteviews with author, 24 Oct. and 5 Nov. 1979; hereafter 
cited as Honeycutt interviews. 

3. Chowan Herald (Edenton). 18 Aug. 1966; Virginian Pilot (Norfolk. V-i.). 
10 Oct. 1965. 

May, 1989 45 

4. C.J. Sauthier, \769Pianofthe Town and Port of Edenton, North Carolina, 
photostatic copy, Nonh Carolina State Archives, Raleigh; Donald H. Parker, 
landscape architect, Williamsburg, Va., interview with author, 5 Dec. 1979, 
hereafter cited as Parker interview. 

5. See David Leroy Corbitt, ed.. Explorations, Descriptions, and Attempted 
Settlements of Carolina, 1584 to 7^90 (Raleigh, N. C: State Department 
of Archives and History, 1948); David Beers Quinn, ed.. The Roanoke 
Voyages, 1584-1590 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1955); Thomas C. 
Parramore, Cradle of the Colony: The History of Chowan County and 
Edenton, North Carolina, (Edenton: Chamber of Commerce, 1967), 5-10. 

6. Hugh T. Lefler and William S. Powell, Colonial North Carolina: A History 
(New York: Charles Scriner's Sons, 1973), 29-32; William S. Powell, ed.. 
Ye Countie of Albemarle in Carolina: A Collection of Documents, 
1664-1675 (Raleigh, N. C: State Department of Archives and History, 
1958), xiii-xxiv. For desciptions of the Chowan region from some of the 
Virginia explorations, see Hugh T. Lefler, ed.. North Carolina History told 
by Contemporaries (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956), 

7. Lefler and Powell, Colonial North Carolina, 31-2; Powell, Ye Countie of 
Albemarle , xiii-xxiii. 

8. Lefler and Powell, Colonial North Carolina, 32; Powell, Ye Countie of 
Albemarle , xxiii. For a bibliographical sketch of Captain Samuel Stevens, 
see Beth G. Crabtree, North Carolina Governors, 1585-1968 (Raleigh: State 
Department of Archives and History, 1968), 5-6. 

9. Actually, the settled region of the Albermarle mistakenly was omitted from 
the 1663 charter, which granted the territory extending from 31 ° to 36° 
north latitude and stretching from ocean to ocean to eight men who had 
made considerable contributions to King Charles ILs restoration. The error 
was corrected by a second charter granted in 1665, which established the 
northern Carolina boundary as approximately the same as the present-day 
North Carolina-Virginia state line. For an account of the two charters and 
biographical sketches of the eight Lords Proprietors, see William S. Powell, 
The Carolina Charter of 1665 (Raleigh, N. C.: State Department of Arhives 
and History, 1954). For a biographical sketch of Governor William Drum- 
mond, see Crabtree, North Carolina Governors, 3-4. 

10. David Leroy Corbitt, The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 
1663-1943 (Raleigh, N. C: State Department of Archives and History, 
1969), xxiv. The precinct was named in honor of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 
one of the original Lords Proprietors. 

1 1 . Corbitt, Formation, xxiv; Lefler and Powell, Colonial North Carolina, 44-5, 
Powell, Ye Countie of Albemarle, xxi-xxxii; Parramore, Cradle of the 
Colony, 12. Chowan "Precinct" became Chowan County in 1739. Corbitt, 
Formation , xx. 

12. See Margaret M. Hofmann, comp. and ed.. Province of North Carolina, 
1663-1729: Abstracts of Land Patents (Weldon, N. C: Roanoke News 
Company, 1979). This extensive research effort indicates that the region 
may have been more heavily settled than previously has been believed. 


13. J. R. B. Hathaway, ed., North Carolina Historical and Geneaological 
Register, 2 (1901):350, 358; 3 (1902):200-2, 207, hereafter cited as 
NCH&GR; Chowan County Deeds, Office of the Register of Deeds, 
Chowan County Courthouse, Edenton, Book W-1, 6; Elizabeth Vann 
Moore, Edenton, interviews with author, 24-27 Sept. 1979; hereafter cited 
as Moore interviews. Hoskins's land patent itself has not survived, but is 
referred to in later deeds. 

14. NCH&GR, 2:350, 398; Chowan County Deeds, Bk. W-1, 6; Moore 

15. Ihid.. For a biographical sketch of Nathaniel Chevin (d. 1720) see William 
S. Powell, ed.. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1979- ), l(A-C), 366. 

16. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. B-1, 62-3. Thomas Cary (d. 1720), Deputy 
Governor and Council President, was born in England and became a 
successful merchant in Charleston in the early eighteenth century. In 1710 
Cary lost his political skirmish with Edward Hyde for the governorship of 
North Carolina and "became an open and declared rebel and brought 
together a gang of tramps and rioters in open rebellion against Hyde." 
Governor Spotswood of Virginia came to Hyde's assistance, captured Hyde, 
and ended the rebellion. For a biographical sketch of Thomas Cary, see 
Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:338-9. 

17. Walter Clark, ed.. The State Records of North Carolina, 16 vols, 11-26 
(Winston and Goldsboro, N. C: State of North Carolina, 1895-1906), 
25:168; Parramore, Cradle of the Colony, 15. 

18. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. W-1, 6; Moore interviews. Thomas Peterson 
(d. 1715) was a merchant and citizen of Chowan; his father had emigrated 
from Maryland in 1677. 

19. Edward Moseley's 1733 Map of North Carolina, a photocopy of which is 
in the N. C. State Archives, clearly depicts the Virginia Road leading to 

20. The vestry of St. Paul's parish was established in 1701 by the Society for 
the Propagation of the Gospel and is the oldest in the state. Its first church 
building was located east of Edenton on what is now Hayes plantation and 
served the parish until construction began on the building that stands in 
Edenton today. Parramore, Cradle oj the Colony, 14-15. 

21. William S. Price, Jr., ed.. North Carolina Higher Court Minutes. 1709-1723, 
vol. 5 of The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh, N. C: Division 
of Archives and History, 1975), xiii, 147-8. 

22. Elizabeth Van Moore, Report on the Cupola House for the Edenton and 
Chowan County Histoncal Commission (N.p.: Privately printed, 1965), 
1-3; Parramore, Cradle of the Colony, 15; Clark, State Records, 25:175-8. 

23. Moore, Cupola House Report, 1-3; Moore interviews. 

24. Clark, State Records, 25:175-8. 

25. Ibid. 

26. Price, Minutes, xiii. 

27. Ibid. ; Charles Christopher Crittenden, The Commerce of North Carolina, 
1765-1789 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 70-1, 77-8; Harry 

May, 1989 47 

Roy Merrens, Colonial North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century: A Study 
in Historical Geography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 
1964), 147-8. In exports, approximately 2/5 of the total tonnage cleared 
Port Roanoke for the West Indies, 1 / 3 sailed up the coast to New England, 
New York, and Baltimore, and 1/5 cleared for England. For imports, 1/2 
of the tonnage came from New England, 1/4 from the West Indies, 1/5 
from Great Britain, and 1/5 came from Spain and other ports. In the last 
six months of 1729 more than 60 vessels cleared Edenton. Parramore, Cradle 
of the Colony, 19-20. 

28. William Byrd, Wistones of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North 
Carolina, ed. W. K. Boyd (Raleigh, N. C: North Carolina Historical 
Commission, 1929), 96-8; Parramore, Cradle of the Colony, 16-18. 

29. John Brickell, The Natural History of North Carolina (1737, reprint, 
Murfreesboro, N. C: Johnson Publishing Co., 1968), 8. Dr. Brickell, an 
Irishman, also wrote a lively portrayal of Edenton's social life in the 1730s: 
town inhabitants apparently had no trouble finding time for gambling, 
cock-fighting, hunting, fishing, wrestling, dancing, and horse-racing, "for 
which they have Race-Paths near every town, and in many parts of the 

30. Parramore, Cradle of the Colony, 22-3. 

31. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. C-1, Pt. 2, 1. 

32. J. Bryan Grimes, "Some Short Colonial Biographies," North Carolina Day 
Programs (Raleigh, N. C: Edwards and Broughton, 1904), 81; John L. 
Cheney, Jr., ed.. North Carolina Government, 138^1984: A Narrative and 
Statistical History . . . (Raleigh, N. C: North Carolina Department of the 
Secretary of State, 1975). 

33. Byrd, Dividing Line, Al . 

34. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. C-1, Pt. 2, 1. 

35. P. Hartmus, Plan of the Town of Edenton, photostatic copy, N. C. State 

36. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. C-1, Pt. 2, 1. 

37. Ibid. 

38. Ibid. 

39- Ibid., Pt. 2 (numerous listings). 

40. Ibid, Pt. 2, 40. 

41. Ibid. 

42. For biographies of Christopher Gale (ca. 1680-1734), see Samuel A. Ashe 
and others, eds.. Biographical History of North Carolina: From Colonial 
Times to the Present, 8 vols. (Greensboro, N. C. : Charles L. Van Noppen, 
1905-1917), 1:292-3; Marshall Delancey Wood, Builders of the Old North 
State, ed. Sarah McCulloh Lemmon (Raleigh, N. C: Litho Industries, Inc., 
1968), 21-5; Ursula Fogleman Loy and Pauline Marion Worthy, eds., 
Washington and the Pamlico (Washington, N. C: Washington-Beaufort 
County Bicentennial Commission, 1976), 414-16. 

43. Gale's plantation on Queen Anne's Creek is shown on Moseley's 1733 Map 
of North Carolina. 

44. New England Historical and Geneaological Review, 47 (1893):350. 


45. "The Indians of Southern Virginia, 1650-1711: Depositions in the Virginia 
and North CaroHna Boundary Case," Virginia Magazine of History and 
Biography, 7 (April 1900):347-8. 

46. Hugh F. Rankin, Upheaval in Albemarle: The Story of Culpeper's 
Rebellion, 1673-1689 (Raleigh, N. C: Carolina Charter Tercentary 
Commission, 1962), 73-4. 

47. Ibid. 

48. Ibid., 74. 

49. Ibid., 41. 

30. Cheney, North Carolina Government, 11-16. 

5 1 Mattie Erma Edwards Parker, ed. , North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 

1670-1696, vol. 2 of The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh, N. 

C: State Department of Archives and History, 1968), 11-18. 

52. Louis des Cognets, Jr., comp. English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records 
(Princeton: Louis des Cognets, Jr., 1958), 281, 293. 

53. Jacqueline H. Wolf, "Patents and Tithables in Proprietary North Carolina, 

1663-1729," North Carolina Historical Review, 56 (]\A^ 1979):273. 

54. Mattie Erma Edwards Parker, North Carolina Higher Court Records, 
1697-1701, vol 3 of The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh, 
N. C: State Department of Archives and History, 1971), 34-5. 

55. Wolf, "Patents," 273. 

56. Richard Sanderson, Sr., served on the Anglican vestry of Currituck Parish 
from the time it was organized until his death in 1718, and he supported 
the establishment of the Anglican Church and the imposition of political 
disabilities on dissenters during their political struggles of the early 1700s. 
As for his known children , other than Richard , Jr. , Joseph (d . 1 746) became 
a leading citizen of Currituck and had seven children; daughter Cesiah 
married Henry Woodhouse, and they had a son, Hezekiah; and daughter 
Susanna married first Benjamin Tullie, a Currituck ship owner, and second, 
one Erwin. Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans Wills and Estates 
Papers; Colonial Court Records, Estates Papers, Wills, Sanderson folders, 
N. C. State Archives. 

57. Price, Minutes, 7 

58. Ibid., 170. 

59. Ibid., 190, 214, 243. 

60. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. B-1, 577. 

61 . Cognets, English Duplicates, 281-94. Sanderson, Jr. also captained the sloop 
Samuel of North Carolina (3 tons) owned by Henry Slade and the sloop 
Adventure of North Carolina (10 tons) owned by brother-in-law Benjamin 
Tullie, among others. 

62. Parker, Records, 3:101, 198. 

63. Ibid., 198, 218. 

64. Price, Minutes, 482-3. 

65. David Stick, The Outer Banks of North Carolina, U84-1938 (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1958), 32, 289, 314. 

May, 1989 49 

6G. lbid.\ Secretary of State Papers, Wills, vol. 27, 62, N. C. State Archives; 
also see the Hayes Collection (microfilm). Southern Historical Collection, 
University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill, Reel 1, folders 1-6. 

67. Stick, Outer Banks, 314; Sanderson's fleet also included at one time the 
Lark (10 tons), and the Thomas (8 tons). In his West Indies trade he dealt 
with an apparent kinsman, Basil Sanderson, an Antigua shipmaster and 
trader. Profits of 30(y were not uncommon for a successful voyage and cargo 
transfer in the early 18th century. See Chowan County Personal Accounts, 
1720-9, N. C. State Archives. 

68. Stick, Outer Banks, 314. 

69. Price, Minutes, 73; Secretary of State Papers, Wills, 21:G2. 

70. Price, Minutes, 75. 

71. Parker, Records, 1:1')'). 

11. Cheney, North Carolina Government, 16, 29. 

73. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography , 4 (July 1896):85. 

74. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. F-1, 204. Ruth Laker Minge Sanderson was 
a daughter of Benjamin Laker (d. 1701) and widow of James Minge (d. 
1724). Her sister, Sarah, widow of Thomas Harvey (d. 1699) married 
Christopher Gale. Their son. Miles, was a sea captain, apparently employed 
at times by Sanderson; Miles married Hannah Yeats of Boston and lived 
for a time in New England. Moore interviews. 

75. See Ruth Sanderson's will in J. Bryan Grimes, ed.. Abstracts of North 
Carolina Wills (Raleigh, N. C: E. M. Uzzel, 1910), 327. 

76. Richard Sanderson III, captain of many of his father's ships, died in 1737; 
his widow and administratrix, Hannah, sold much of his estate to discharge 
debts. Grace (d. 1744) married Tullie Williams of Albermarle, and Elizabeth 
was married thrice: first to John Crisp, son of Nicholas Crisp (d. 1727) of 
Chowan, then to Thomas Pollock, son of Governor Thomas Pollock, and 
finally to Samuel Scolley of New England. Bertie and Perquimans Estates 
Papers, Wills; Secretary of State Papers, Colonial Court Records; Estates 
Papers, Sanderson folders, N. C. State Archives. 

77. Richard Sanderson IV (d. 1772), owner of the sloop Charming Betsy and 
other ships, married Elizabeth Barkliff in 1755; they lived on a plantation 
(perhaps the original homestead) in Perquimans. Their son, Richard V (d. 
1804), married Sarah Ryan and later Martha Puga, establishing a large 
plantation near Durant's Neck in Perquimans. Richard V's son, Richard 
VI, died without heirs in 1816, and the Sanderson estate in Perquimans 
became the object of numerous law suits filed by his brothers and sisters. 
Perquimans County Estates Papers, Sanderson folders, N. C. State Archives. 

78. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. C-1, Pt. 2, 40. 

79. Ibid., 1, 36, 40. 

80. Ibid., 52. 

81. If so, the Crisps did not occupy the dwelling for long. John Crisp died 
shortly after their marriage, and Elizabeth Sanderson Crisp moved to Bertie 
County after she married Thomas Pollack. Bertie and Perquimans Estates 
Papers, Wills; Secretary of State Papers; Sanderson folders, N. C. State 


82. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. C-1, Pt. 2, 52. 

8.V The Edenton values were derived from entries in Chowan County Deed 
Book C-1, pages 43, 44, and 63 respectively. The sale price of the Brush 
house is courtesy of Patricia Gibbs, Historian, Department of Research, 
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; colonial exchange rates may be found 
in John J. McCusker, Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 
1660-177}: A Handbook (Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 1978)]; Moore, Cupo/a 
House Report, 9-10; Moore interviews. 

84. William L. Saunders, ed.. The Colonial Records of North Carolina, 10 
vols. (Raleigh, N. C: State of North Carolina, 1886-90) 2:497-9. 

85. Ibid. 

86. Ibid. 

87. Ibid., 3:30, 122. 

88. Ibid., 30. 

89. She may have been related to the Badham family of early Edenton. Moore 

90. Adam Cockburne's deposition of 10 January 1726 referred to the dwell- 
ing as "Mr. Dunston's House." See NCH&iGR, 3 (1902):229-31 . 

91. Chowan County Wills (original), John Dunston Folder, N. C. State 

92. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. C-1, Pt. 2. 63. 

93. Ibid., 75. 

94. Martha Dunston (d. 1736) never remarried, although she apparently had 
two more children after her husband's death. In all there were four 
Dunston children: sons Barnaby Healy and Richard William, both of 
whom were joiners in Bertie, and daughters Elenor and Mary. Moore in- 
terviews; Chowan County Deeds, Bk. E-1, 319. 

95. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. C-1. Pt. 2, 77. 

96. Ibid., Bk. H-1, 97-8. 

97. Ibid., Bk. C-1, Pt., 77; Bk. H-1, 94-6; Chowan County Miscellaneous 
Papers, 20 vols., 2:92, N. C. State Archives. 

98. See Oscar Bark, Jr., and Hugh T. Lefler, Colonial Amenca, 2nd. ed. (New 
York: MacMillan Co., 1970), 360-5. 

99. Albemarle County Papers, 2:66, N. C. State Archives. 

100. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. H-1, 94-6. 

101. Ibid., Bk. A-1, 99. This lot was vacant, however, when granted by the 
commissioners of Edenton to Montgomery in 1742. 

102. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. H-1, 94-6. William Monon's sister, Elizabeth, 
was the wife of Reverend William Graham, also of Northumberland 

103. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. H-1, 94-6. The Grahams had the Pecks pay 
all the expenses of hiring Messrs. Barker, Cathcart, and Granden, even 
though Elizabeth Graham was the administratrix of her brother's estate. 

104. BnckcW, Natural History, 14. 

105 . Roben W. Ramsey, Carolina Cradle: Settlement of the Northwest Carolina 
Frontier. 1747-1762 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 

May, 1989 51 

1964), 6; see also E. Merton Coulter, The Granville District (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1914). For a brief biographical sketch 
of John Carteret (1690-1763), Earl of Granville, see Alan Valentine, The 
Bntish Establishment, 1760-1784: An Eighteenth-Century Biographical 
Dictionary, 2 vols. (Norman, Ok: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), 

106. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:431-2. The author also thanks Mr. George 
Stevenson of the North Carolina State Archives for kindly sharing his 
research on Francis Corbin. 

107. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:431-2; Granville District Papers, 1729-1780 
(microfilm copy from the Marquis of Bath's Library, Longleat Library), 
N. C. State Archives, citeci with permission from Lord Bath. 

108. NCH&GR, 3:239-42. Col. Edward Moseley (d. 1749), President of the 
Governor's Council, Acting Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, ans 
Surveyor General of the Province, was originally a resident of Chowan 
and Edenton; he surveyed the original town plan in 1712. In 1730 he 
moved to New Hanover County where he acquired and extensive estate. 
His antecedents are unknown, but he was probably a member of the 
Moseley family of Princess Anne County, Virginia. See William S. Price, 
Jr., "Men of Good Estates: Wealth Among North Carolina's Royal 
Councillors," North Carolina Historical Review, 49 (Jan. 1972):71-82. 

109. NCH&GR, 3:241-2. 

110. South Carolina Gazette (Charleston), 16 Dec. 1745; Powell, N. C. 
Biography, VA^l. 

111. Ramsey, Carolina Cradle, 6, 23. 

112. NCH&GR, 3:241; Granville District Papers. 

113. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:432; Granville District Papers. 

114. Ibid. 

115. Saunders, Colonial Records, 4:925-6. 

116. Ibid., 925-50. Gabriel Johnston (1699-1752) served as governor for 
eighteen years (1734-52). Blackwell P. Robinson, The Eive Royal Governors 
of North Carolina, 1729-1773 (Raleigh, N. C: Carolina Charter Tercentary 
Commission, 1963), 13-26. 

117. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:432; Granville District Papers. 

118. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. H-1, 213-16; Bk. Q-1, 11-14; New Hanover 
County Deeds, Bk. E, 88-94. 

119- Gabriel Johnston to Lord Granville, 10 Nov. 1750, Granville District 

120. John Campbell to Granville, 18 May 1749; Johnston to Granville, 5 Mar. 

1751, Granville District Papers. For Campbell's biography, see Powell, 
N. C. Biography, 1:315-16. 

121. Johnston to Granville, 5 Mar. 1751, Granville District Papers. 

122. Coulter, Granville District, 33-56. Granville rented his lands upon 
payment of three shillings steding followed by an annual rent of three 
shillings sterling or four shillings proclamation money for each 100 acres 


123. Coulter, Granville District, 33-56; William S. Powell, James K. Huhta, 
and Thomas J. Farnham, comps. and eds.. The Regulators in North 
Carolina: A Docur/ientary History, 1759-1776 (Raleigh, N. C: State 
Department of Archives and History, 1971), xv-xxvii, 4-15. 

124. Granville to Francis Corbin and Benjamin Wheatley, 19july 1734, 8 Aug. 
1754, Granville District Papers. 

125. Adelaide L. Fries and others, eds.. Records of the Moravians in North 
Carolina, 11 vols. (Raleigh, N. C: North Carolina Historical Commis- 
sion, 1922-69), 2:517-18. 

126. Powell, jV. C. Biography, 1:432; for a complete listing of Corbin's political 
offices, see Cheney, North Carolina Government. 

Ill . Arthur Dobbs to Granville, 29 Nov. 1755, Granville District Papers. 

128. Granville to Corbin and Wheatley. 19july 1754, 8 Aug. 1754, Granville 
District Papers. 

129. Saunders, Colonial Records, 5:1088-94; Joseph Kelly and John L. Bridges, 
History of Edgecombe County (Raleigh, N. C: Edwards and Broughton, 
1920), 75-83; Coulter, Granville District, 33-56; Dobbs to Thomas Child, 
5 Feb. 1759, Granville District Papers. 

130. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:432; Saunders, Colonial Records, 5: 778-81, 

131. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:432; Saunders, Colonial Records, 5:lvi-lix, 
6:292-300; Turner and Bridges, Edgecombe County, 75-83. 

132. Saunders, Colonial Records, 5:lvi-lix, 6:292-300; Turner and Bridges, 
Edgecombe County, 80-1. 

133. Saunders, Colonial Records, 5:lix, 6:292-300; Powell, N. C. Biography, 

134. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:432; Desmond Clark, Arthur Dobbs, Esquire. 
1689-1765 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), 155-7. 

135. Saunders, Colonial Records, 5:lvi-lix; 6:292-300. 

136. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:432; Saunders, Colonial Records, 7:159. 

137. Turner and Bridges, Edgecombe County, 79. 

138. Coulter, Granville District, 33-56; Turner and Bridges, Edgecombe 
County, 75-83. 

139. Granville District Papers. Much of the money was sent to Granville in 
Virginia currency through Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddle. North 
Carolina currency was virtually worthless in England, and Granville would 
not accept it. See R. A. Brock, ed.. The Official Records of Robert 
Dinwiddle, 2 vols. (Richmond, Va.: Virginia Historical Society, 1933-4), 

140. Janet Sch^w, Journal of a Lady of Quality, ed. Evangeline Walker Andrews 
and Charles McClean Andrews (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 
1921), 287. 

141. Granville to Corbin and Wheatley, 18 Apr. 1756, Granville District Papers; 
Saunders, Colonial Records, 6:298-9. 

142. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. H-1, 172-3, 213-16; Bk. L-1, 22-6; Price, 
"Men of Good Estates," 71-82. In his later marriage agreement with Jean 

May, 1989 53 

Innes, however, Corbin only mentioned his Pembroke-Strawberry Island 
lands, "with houses, outhouses, and improvements," which suggests that 
the tract was his manor plantation. 

143. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. H-1, 94-8. 

144. Granville to Corbin and James Innes, 15 Nov. 1751, Granville to Corbin 
and Wheatley, 18 Apr. 1756, Granville District Papers. 

145. Granville to Corbin and Innes, 15 Nov. 1751, Granville District Papers. 

146. Granville to Corbin and Wheatley, 18 Apr. 1756, Granville District Papers. 

147. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. H-1, 99-100. 

148. Elizabeth Vann Moore researched the Edenton property sales; the examples 
cited are from Chowan County Deed Book G-1, p. 113, and Book H-1, 
pages 4, 78. The Geddy information was provided by Patricia Gibbs of 
Colonial Williamsburg; the 1756 exchange rate for North Carolina and 
the 1760 rate for Virginia are from tables in McCusker, Money and 
Exchange. Sauthier, 1769 Plan of Edenton. 

149. Moore, Cupola House Report, 9-10. 

150. Price, "Men of Good Estates," 71-82. 

151. Granville to Corbin and Wheatley, 8 Aug. 1754, Granville District Papers. 

152. Powell, N. C. Biography, 1:315-16. 

153. Colonial Court Records, Estates Papers, Jean Corbin folder. 

154. Saunders, Colonial Records, 6:979. 

155. Minutes of the Vestry for St. Paul's Church, microfilm copy, N. C. State 
Archives; Clement Hall, A Collection of Many Christian Experiences, ed. 
William S. Powell (Raleigh, N. C: State Department of Archives and 
History, 1961), 12-15. See also Edgar L. Pennington, The Church of 
England and the Reverend Clement Hall in Colonial North Carolina 
(Hartfield, Conn: Church Missions Publishing Co., 1937). 

156. Saunders, Colonial Records, 4:925; Hall, Christian Experiences, 12-15. 

157. Corbin to Granville, 13 Feb. 1754, 19 Mar. 1754, Granville District 

158. Ibid., 13 Apr. 1754. 

159. New Hanover County Deeds, Bk. E, 88-94. Colonel James Innes 
(1700-1759) was born in Cannisbay, Caithness, Scotland, and apparently 
came to North Carolina with Gabriel Johnston in 1734. He distinquished 
himself as the commander of the colonial forces during the French and 
Indian War, and he served as Corbin's co-agent from 1751-4. 

160. Sc\\z-w, Journal of a Lady , 157. 

161. New Hanover County Deeds, Bk. E, 88-94; Colonial Court Records, Jean 
Corbin folder. 

162. New Hanover County Deeds, Bk. E, 91. 

163. Ibtd., 92. 

164. Corbin regularly attended the meetings of the Edenton District Superior 
Court during these years, and he was an associate justice of the court from 
1763-5. Minutes of the Edenton District Superior Court, 1760-82, N. C. 
State Archives. 


165. Schdi'^N, Journal of a Liidy, 171. 

166. Minutes of the Chowan County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter 
Sessions, 1766-72, pages not numbered, microfilm copy, N. C. State 
Archives, hereafter cited as Chowan C. C. P. 

167. Ibid. 

168. Virginia Gazette. 11 Aug. 1768. 

169. Account of the Sales of the Estate of Frances Corbin, 20 Sept. 1768, xerox. 
Historic Edenton Visitors Center — Thomas Barker House, Edenton. 

170. Parramore, Cradle of the Colony, 22-30. 

171. Colonial Court Records, Estates Papers, Jean Corbin folder. The Chowan 
County tax lists for the early 1770s list the carriage ("4 wheels") as well. 
Chowan County tax lists, 1770-9, N. C. State Archives. 

172. Colonial Court Records, Estates Papers, Francis Corbin folder; Chowan 
C. C. P., 1766-72, Edenton Superior Court Minutes, 1760-82. 

173. Colonial Court Records, Estates Papers, Francis Corbin folder. 

174. Chowan County Wills (original), Robert Cashaw folder. Robert Kirshaw's 
written name appears in many forms throughout the Chowan County 
Records, including Kershaw, Carshaw, and Cashaw. 

175. Edenton Superior Court Minutes, 1760-82, 74-5. The court minutes read 
"Jury Impaneled & Sworn say the deft, hath paid L388. 14 and all/interest 
to 31st May 1770. Residue unpaid, deft, hath not fully adm." 

176. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. Q-1, 11-16. 

177. New Hanover County Deeds, Bk. E, 88-94. Mrs. Corbin was buried 
between the graves of her two husbands. Point Pleasant was destroyed 
by fire in 1783. Sch-iv,', Journal of a Lady. 171. 

178. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. R-1, 41-2. Very little is known about Edmund 
Corbin. He described himself as a "Merchant of the Cape Fear." As he 
was a loyalist, he probably sold the Cupola House to avoid its confiscation; 
in 1780 he petitioned the assembly in protest of the confiscation acts. 
Apparently he left North Carolina shortly thereafter, for in 1783 Thomas 
Craike of Wilmington became the Corbin estate administrator. Clark, 
State Records. 15:203-4; New Hanover Court Mmutes, 1771-85, 96, 109. 

179. Chowan County Deeds, Bk. R-1, 41-2. 

May, 1989 55 

Figure 1. Cupola House, front (south) elevation. MESDA research file (MRF) 
S-13J60. All MESDA photographs of the Cupola House are from this research 
file and were taken by John Bivtns. All other illustrations shown here, including 
interior views and radiographs, are of the Cupola House unless otherwise noted. 



The Cupola House: 

An Anachronism of Style and Technology 

John Bivins 

James Melchor 

Marilyn Melchor 

Richard Parsons 

The accurate analysis of any cultural object as a document 
of chronology, style, and technology places a special burden upon 
the individuals who undertake such a study. Evaluating the 
evidence provided by such an object requires an understanding 
of the experience of the artisan and his patron rather than just 
the experience of the modern scholar. The products of some trades 
are particularly difficult to probe, especially when they must be 
taken as a single example with few or no comparative samples 
available. Early buildings are one of these, and the problem is 
compounded by the complexity of the building trade itself. In 
an urban or densely-populated environment, it is possible to 
establish a comparative catalog of details shared by a group of 
structures survivmg from a specific time frame. In the absence 
of an urban setting or regional school of architecture of a given 
period, determining the date of construction and stylistic 
antecedents of a dwelling can be difficult. 

The Cupola House, in the architectural sense, is considered 
to be North Carolina's most significant early frame dwelling. Its 
presentation to the public, therefore, should be as accurate as 
possible, since education must deal with the truth as we perceive 
it. Nevertheless, the interpretation of this structure has suffered 
due to the controversy surrounding it. Many individuals have 
insisted that the interiors were added by Francis Corbin after 1756, 
as we have seen, while others have disagreed. Others have 
suggested that the building represents an alteration of an earlier 

May, 1989 57 

building in terms of both structure and form, and that the cupola 
itself, for example, is a later addition. The dwelling repeatedly 
has been compared with New England regional antecedents. 
Waterman remarked that the house represents "one of the most 
striking essays in the Jacobean style in America," and that "there 
is no more important example of Jacobean design south of 
Connecticut than the Cupola House, except Bacon's Castle in 
Surry County, Virginia. "• 

Actually, the Cupola House is in many respects an architec- 
tural anomaly that cannot be explained by a simple comparison 
with dwellings standing outside the North Carolina Albemarle. 
Aligning the house with the "Jacobean" style is inadequate from 
more than one viewpoint. Frame houses with jettied or overshot 
second stories pre-dated the reign of even James I by at least two 
centuries. In America, they are represented by a number of seven- 
teenth century examples with framed overhangs, and scores of 
others dating through the eighteenth century with hewn 
overhangs. The Cupola House has the deep jetty of early con- 
struction, but the extension was provided by very unconventional 
means, as we shall see. The only other details that the North 
Carolina building might seem to share with the New England 
buildings are the gable on the front elevation and the use of 
shaped brackets under the soffit of the jetty. New England houses 
with full framed jetties generally were constructed with casement 
windows of small size, and shaped drops that either were part 
of the upper corner posts or attached to them with mortise-and- 
tenon joints. They usually have a central chimney plan with a 
small entry. 

In contrast, the Cupola House has guillotine sash, no drops 
under the soffit of the overhang, a plan based upon a central 
hall with exterior end chimneys, and it is graced with an impos- 
ing cupola of classical form. These, along with a number of other 
details, dissasociate the building from the mainstream of seven- 
teenth and early eighteenth century building convention in the 
northeast. Clear architectural precedents for the Cupola House, 
in fact, are elusive, and for that reason the building must be 
understood within its own geographic context insofar as possi- 
ble. In short, it would be a mistake to consider the house as a 
Carolina translation of a New England or even a British form. 
As Parsons has stated it, the authors have made the attempt to 
"lay aside all existing information and theses and examine the 
house as a newly-discovered" object. It was considered an 


erroneous approach to enter the investigation in attempt to 
"prove" any existing preconception about the house. Neverthless, 
important questions sought answers, such as whether or not the 
basic structure is an integral unit built at once, or, instead, conceals 
an earlier, simpler building. A particularly important puzzle was 
whether or not the decorative woodwork was added to the 
building, and, if so, by whom. 

Figure 2. First floor plan. Courtesy of Mills Lane, illustrated on page 16 of Niills 
Lane. Architecture of the Old South: North Carolina {Savannah. Ga.: Beehive 
Press. 1985). 

The Cupola House is a double-pile two-story-with-attic frame 
structure that is asymmetrical in both plan and every elevation, 
a pragmatic application that stands in contrast to the classical sense 
of ordered symmetry typical of Palladian dwellings of the lower 
Chesapeake. This asymmetry is one of the strongest statements 
of the basic vernacular nature of the building. Indeed, its double- 
pile plan is the only feature that might be said to be advanced 
for its time in North Carolina, since most frame buildings 
remained a single room deep until the beginning of the 
Neoclassical period. The double plan can be found in some of 
the early dwellings of eastern Virginia. 

May, 1989 


In the Cupola House, a commodious central passage is flanked 
on both west and east by two rooms of varying size (fig. 2). The 
principal room is the fully-paneled southeast hall, popularly 
known as the ' 'dining room; ' ' its finish includes a massive arched 
cupboard (fig. 54) in the north wall, suggesting that possible use. 
The presence of such a cupboard, however, does not serve to 
document the fixed use of a room, particularly in an early struc- 
ture. Approximately sixteen feet wide by twenty feet deep, the 
hall adjoins a small unheated chamber on the northeast side that 
is only eight feet deep. On the west side of the passage is a smaller 
room, generally known now as the parlor, that, although not fully 
paneled, nevertheless is very well detailed. Approximately fifteen 
feet wide by sixteen feet deep, the parlor adjoins an 11 1/2-foot- 
deep chamber on the north. The chimney that serves this room 
as well as the interior finish of the space represents what appears 
to be an early nineteenth century alteration to the structure. 

Figure 3- South and east elevations from the southeast. 



The second-floor plan is much the same as the first floor, 
although the southern rooms naturally are deeper than the first- 
floor rooms due to the second-floor jetty. As on the first floor, 
there is a fully-paneled room on the southeast, and an unheated 
chamber on the northeast, a smaller heated bedchamber on the 
southwest, and a room on the northwest that has a later fireplace 
and Neoclassical finish (fig. 8). This later trim extends to the 
architraves of the door leading from the southwest room into the 
northwest chamber, indicating the probability that the door was 
cut through the wall at the time that the northwest room received 
its present finish. 

Investigation of the Cupola House was undertaken by the 
authors over a two-day period in February, 1989, and was based 
upon both visual examination as well as X-ray radiography. Two 
of the authors, J. Melchor and Bivins, returned for further inves- 
tigation and photography on independent trips in April and May 
of 1989 respectively. The analysis of the structure itself largely 
was drawn from what could be seen without the aid of any instru- 
ment, and revealed beyond the reasonable doubt of the authors 
that all three dimensions of the framing of the house were con- 
structed at one time, from the foundation footprint to the peak 
of the cupola roof. An examination of the entire crawl-space by 
J. Melchor proved the foundation to be continuous under all 
interior partitions and exterior walls. The plan of both the first 
and second floors, then, follow the plan of the foundation, with 
two parallel interior foundation walls extending from front to rear 
(south to north) under the house, and corresponding with the 
passage partitions; other foundations provide load-bearing support 
for east-west framed partitions above, but they are not bonded 
to the north-south masonry. Of the visible or exterior portions 
of the foundation, however, only the first and second courses of 
the surface are original. The upper courses have been relaid in 
Flemish bond at an indeterminate date, whereas the original facing 
was English bond that matched the original chimney bases, a bond 
typical of the foundations of southern houses dating before the 
mid-eighteenth century. The interior foundations were con- 
structed of sandal or place-bricks, that is, low-fired bricks, and 
show no evidence of ever having been exposed to the weather. 
No traces of earlier but now unused foundations or chimney bases 
were found under the house. This establishes the present double- 
pile, central-hall plan of the house as contiguous. A similar 
investigation of the framing of the building was undertaken, and 

May, 1989 61 

the frame indeed has proven to be very significant in regard to 
estabUshing the contiguity of all of the building's fabric as well 
as revealing surprising and unique technological applications. The 
impact of this evidence is tied with the architectural form and 
plan of the house, and therefore both should be considered 

# 1 

Figure 4. West elevation from the southwest. The north chimney on the west 
side of the house was a later addition, made by either Samuel Dickinson or 
Nathaniel Bond. 

The asymmetry of the Cupola House is not a feature that has 
been examined to any extent in the past. It is by no means unusual 
for a building that is essentially Baroque in stance to provide a 
balanced front facade while yielding to pragmatically uneven 
fenestration at the sides and rear, but in this instance the building 



violates even the order of its front. The porch, front gable or pedi- 
ment, and cupola are oriented on the same vertical plane, but 
the front door and second-floor passage window are well off-center 
to the east (fig. 1). Like many features of the Cupola House, the 
asymmetry of both the front and rear elevations represents a 
vernacular and even naive solution to a problem. As Parsons 

"^ "T 

' — e» 


(: '-'l 

Figure 3. Rear or north elevation. 

observes, this irregularity very well may represent the impact of 
the stair placement upon the location of the doors. The staircase 
has numerous stylistic parallels in British work. That the front 
and rear exterior doors of the house are off-center suggests that 
the size and location of the stair was determined before the door 
posts were joined to the frame. The width of one run of the stair 

May, 1989 


is approximately one-third the width of the stair passage, and 
therefore the two front-to-rear runs ascending to the second floor 
effectively make use of two- thirds of the rear wall of the passage 
(fig. 43). The remaining space permitted the installation of a 
generous rear door opening only by shifting the door to the east, 
thereby avoiding the turn of the stair. Since axial planning was 
of considerable importance in formal style, it was similarly 
necessary to shift the front door off center in order to place it 
upon the axis of the rear, thereby preserving the vista through 
two open doors. This further necessitated movement of the 
second-floor passage window on the front of the house, but the 
huge sixteen-over-twelve-light stair window at the rear was 
centered in the stair passage (fig. 5) in frank admission that the 
rear facade was considered to have less importance. 

Although the staircase is a handsome piece of work, study 
of the balustrade reveals that it was not drawn out to scale and 
possible problems were not solved before work was begun. The 
stair seems to have been constructed a run at a time, with each 
new problem of ramp and easing resolved differently. The visual 
result is an imposing feature that seems to be crammed into an 
insufficient space; particularly clumsy is the location of the 
northeast chamber door partially above the second run of the stair. 
Similar problems of doors opening "onto thin air" are paralleled 
in more sophisticated dwellings, however. Two Virginia examples 
are the Tebbs house (now gone) in Dumfries and Menokin in 
Richmond County. ^ According to Waterman, the original plans 
for these high style houses included such doors in their original 
plans; they were not added after the houses were built. Such 
relatively unsuccessful solutions to use of space, then, certainly 
need not imply a later alteration to a structure. 

The asymmetry of the exterior of the Cupola House is equally 
evident on both its east and west elevations. The impressive 
Flemish-bond chimneys are centered upon the rooms that they 
heat rather than being arranged on a common axis and in the 
center of the end walls. This again is a vernacular solution wherein 
the plan has regulated the arrangement of the exterior. That is, 
the irregular size and placement of the rooms has dictated chimney 
placement. A more advanced application might have been a more 
equal division of rooms and the use of corner fireplaces, but even 
the use of such massive exterior chimneys on an early two- story 
building in the lower Chesapeake is not common; most such 
chimneys are enclosed within the structure. A parallel in this 


regard, however, is Tuckahoe in Goochland County, Virginia, 
the early all-frame portion of which presumably was constructed 
ca. 1720-30, judging from the fact that the stair carving in 
Rosewell in Gloucester County was executed by the same 
anonymous carver about 1725-26.3 As noted earlier, the north 
chimney on the west side of the Cupola House (fig. 4) was added 
at an undetermined date in the early nineteenth century, either 
by Samuel Dickinson, who died in 1802, or Nathaniel Bond 
(1781-1855), who married Dickinson's daughter Penelope in 

(Join polite 


Figure 6. Plate XXXV I from the 1748 edition of William Salmon's Palladio 

The exterior doors of the house are a prominent architectural 
feature that, due to the paneling plan, is often compared with 
later editions of Salmon's Palladio Londinensts (fig. 6), which 
was first issued in 1734; that particular edition contained no eleva- 
tions of doors. There are other early buildings, including 
Tuckahoe, that have doors with astral or curved panels in the lower 
sections. The same paneling occurs on the wainscot-constructed 

May, 1989 


furniture of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.'^ Such decorative work 
is not a derivation of classical architecture, but rather shows 
influence stemming from the strapwork designs of the Mannerist 
and Baroque periods. One of the most important applications 
of such designs was the plan of formal garden parterres, as Marilyn 
Melchor has pointed out. One seventeenth century English 
engraving (fig. 7) reveals that such designs were widely known 
long before Salmon published his first set of plates for doorways. 
A similar parterre plan was published in Sebastio Serlo's Book 
of Architecture in 1611, a London edition of the Italian work. 

Figure 7. I. Kip, engraver, Rycott in the County of Oxford one of the Seats of the Rt. Honorable 
Montague Earle of Abingdon Baron Norreys of Rycott, London, 1690; an astral plan for a garden 
is shown at the left of the manor house. Photograph courtesy of Colonial Willtamsburg 
Foundation, accession 1967-335. 

Aside from the very early and imposing form of the building's 
overhang, the cupola that has given the house its name certainly 
may be considered the most significant architectural feature of 
the building. It is, in fact, the most classical element of the 
dwelling's exterior. There is every evidence that the smooth 
rustication of the siding above the base is original. The ceiling 
joists project on the exterior, and are finished off underneath with 



carved acanthus leaves much in the fashion of modilHons. 

In the New England genre of jettied two-story dwellings, such 
a cupola would seem an anachronism, therefore suggesting to 
some that it may have been a later alteration of the building. 
However, public buildings in the South and elsewhere made 
extensive use of "lanterns. ' ' Mann Page had incorporated a pair 
of them into the roof structure of his residence, Rosewell, and 
first-quarter eighteenth century buildings in Williamsburg such 
as the Governor's Palace certainly could have provided the 
stimulus for the residential use of a cupola in the Albemarle. There 
are other American precedents for residential cupolas in the early 
eighteenth century, even though evidently none survive. For 
example, in 1728 Godfrey Malbone built a large two-and-one- 
half-story gambrel on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island. 
A prominent cupola and what appears to be a balustraded gallery 
on this house appears in a 1740 sketch of the city. These features 
parallel the 1739 Colony House in Newport, an important 
Baroque building attributed to Richard Munday. In England, a 
1693 three- story house with jettied upper stories in Bury St. 
Edmunds, Suffolk, has a stylish cupola set at the juncture of the 
main block of the house and a rear ell. The arched heads of the 
windows in this example, combined with pilasters at the corners 
of the octagon and a full entablature above, show all of the detail 
that might be expected of the most formal public buildings.^ In 
every instance, including its use in Edenton, cupolas probably 
were intended more as an impressive and formal architectural 
statement than as a structure intended merely for practical use 
such as keeping watch for sails far out on the sound or sea. 

The lantern of the Cupola House is integrated into the roof 
framing itself, which close examination has proven to represent 
original construction. Four massive trusses with their principal 
rafters, girts or tie beams, collars and braces bridge the upper 
portion of the house frame (fig. 8). The tie beams in turn are 
joined together by a plate that may be notched under the tie 
beams; the exact joinery could not be determined visually, nor 
is it known whether the plates are continuous beams as normal. 
The tie beams and plates are supported by full-height corner posts; 
story posts are set at the corners of the central passages. Between 
the story posts and the corner posts are posts that are but a single 
story in height due to the overhang; these evidently are positioned 
between the first and second-story windows, at least on the south 
or front of the building. The principal rafters of the trusses are 

May, 1989 67 



End Girt Rafter 

or Tie Beam „ 



Corner Post 


Story Post 

Principal Girt 
False Girt 


Figure 8. Partial framing schematic by Richard Parsons; finished art by Ron Rice. 

connected by two heavy full-length medial purlins that appear 
to be one piece, although it is possible that some form of scarf 
joint is concealed over one of the principal rafters. The purlins 
are notched into the principal rafters, and are further strengthened 
by diagonal bracing between the trusses and the purlins. The prin- 
cipal rafters also are fitted with collar beams, in all demonstrating 
in both weight of framing and the degree of bracing a tradition 
of "over-building" that is often characteristic of frames con- 
structed in the seventeenth century and earlier. Such overbuilding, 
however, is a feature that must be used with caution in establishing 
a reliable date for any structure, and in the Cupola House may 
simply indicate nothing more than naivete on the part of the 
joiner. Other details of the joinery tend to verify this. Another 
feature of the roof framing that cannot be used to provide specific 



dating are the surface finishes of purhns, principal and common 
rafters, collar beams, and bracing; all of this material shows the 
kerfs of pitsawing. When a water-powered reciprocal saw was 
available, it often was neither good economics or even 
workmanlike to cut such timbers to dimension by hand. Pitsawn 
material virtually disappears from North Carolina Albemarle fur- 
niture by the early 1730s, but it appears evident that pitsawn 
material may be found much later in tidewater houses. This may 
simply represent the employment of inexpensive slave labor. 

Situated between the central pair of principal rafters and above 
the principal purlins are a secondary pair of short, braced purlins 
cut to the same sectional dimensions as the principal purlins. This 
short pair of beams serves to support the four principal posts that 
establish the front and rear faces of the cupola; the remaining 
four posts are tied to the center pair of principal rafters. These 
short purlins, and the framing above them, is consistent with the 
finish and joinery of all of the roof framing. Although the entire 
roof system is without question soundly constructed, very naive 
solutions in the completion of the frame nevertheless are amply 
evident. The principal rafters are placed over the end and story 
posts of the frame, for example, which is a proper method of 
arranging load-bearing elements. The tie-beams upon which the 
principal rafters rest, however, project beyond the posts and plate 
of the frame. On the front of the house the principal rafters, in 
fact, are planted in from the ends of the tie beams by exactly 
the amount of the second-floor overhang. Further, the principal 
purlins are not flush with the top surfaces of the principal rafters, 
but instead project above them, thereby causing the common 
rafters to be thrown out to the axis of the projecting portion of 
the tie- beams. In order to accommodate this unusual structure, 
a false "plate" composed of both heavy boards and individual 
blocks was joined to the upper surface of the projections of the 
front tie beams in order to provide a seat for the common rafter 
butts. This shimming was not necessary on the north side. This 
also necessitated allowing the ends of the plates to project at each 
end of the building so that a common rafter could be placed out- 
board of the principal rafters at each gable. In other words, the 
common rafters do not have the same pitch as the principal rafters 
due to the fact that the purlins are not flush with or below the 
top surfaces of the principal rafters. The roof lathing, then, is 
nailed to the common rafters and does not engage the principal 
rafters. This strange construction is not known by the authors to 

May, 1989 69 

have other parallels, and indicates a probable ignorance of several 
aspects of conventional roof framing by the joiner. Certainly con- 
tiguous with the roof structure is the cupola framing, which, even 
though it reveals a better solution in construction, could not have 
been installed without completely dismantling the upper works 
of the house. There is no evidence of secondary alteration 
anywhere in the knockhead closets of the attic with the excep- 
tion of repairs to the front gable. 

Figure 9- Brackels and jettied second floor from the southeast. 

Like the jettied second floor of the Cupola House, the framed 
gable on the south elevation suggests a much earlier architectural 
tradition. By the early eighteenth century, the fully-developed 
classical pediment typical of the Palladian style was the norm in 
the Chesapeake South. Front gables abound on seventeenth 
century New England structures, of course, and in most instances 
occur in pairs rather than as a single gable. One exception to this 
is evidence found in a late seventeenth century house at 21 
Linnaean Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the dwelling was 



enlarged in the early eighteenth century, and the facade gable 

The front gable of the Cupola House retains its original ridge 
beam which is joined to the principal purlin on the south face 
of the roof, but there is extensive nineteenth and twentieth century 
repair to the structure. The truss forming the pitch of the gable 
is original, although scabbed out with modern material due to 
insect damage. The rafters are replaced except for two documen- 
tary fragments that have been saved. The framing of the exterior 
face is largely undisturbed, with all of the framed and sheathed 
surround for the oculus intact. The oculus itself is a modern 
replacement, very likely at least the third unit placed in the 
opening. The ca. 1918 view (fig. 22) shows a similar single- light 
unit, but it is more likely that the original was divided into 
quadrants in a muUioned frame. Nail hole evidence indicates that 
all of the oculi that occupied the gable at various periods were 
simply held in place with nails driven into the surround at an 
angle. Like other architectural elements that separate the Cupola 
House from conventional American seventeenth century struc- 
tures, the oculus is not a detail normally associated with gables, 
but rather is a common feature of fully-developed pediments. 

On the exterior of the front gable, the rakeboards, crown, 
and finish at the boxed cornice of the roof eaves are replacements 
of indeterminate date. Among the replacements that appear to 
have taken place during the nineteenth century is the finial with 
the initials "FC" and "17/58" applied to it. This feature, which 
long has served as an apparent document of Francis Corbin's 
residence in the house, will be discussed later in conjunction with 
other exterior decorative details. Like all of the attic except for 
the storage areas behind the knee walls, the interior of the gable 
was treated as a finished space, with its flooring contiguous with 
the adjacent attic passage. The interior of the gable was fully 
plastered down to a simple base that was run with a flush bead, 
the same base used in the two attic chambers and passage. 

On more conventional eighteenth century buildings, tie beams 
and end girts that project over the front and rear plates provide 
eave overhangs as well as serve as nailers for a box cornice. In 
normal parlance, both principal and common rafters rest upon 
these projections, but as we have seen, only the common rafters 
do so on the Cupola House. This, of course, is not apparent from 
the exterior, so a normal boxed cornice may be observed. Also 
projecting beyond the frame are the ends of the plates, although 

May, 1989 71 

those on the west side of the building have been removed, prob- 
ably due to weathering. This is an old-fashioned convention that 
permitted a footing for the support of outboard common rafters 
that formed extended eaves on each gable. The precedents for 
this are quite ancient, for even the seventeenth century frame 
houses of New England tend to have gable eaves that are virtually 
flush with the siding, the roofing projecting very little over the 
rakes much in the manner that was common later. There are 
exceptions, such as the 1637 Fairbanks House in Dedham, 
Massachusetts. Ever deeper gable eaves are evident on British 
buildings of earlier date. One such example illustrated by Abbott 
Cummings in his exceptional book Framed Houses of 
Massachusetts Bay, a circa 1600 farmhouse in Banham, Norfolk, 
has eave projections that surely must approach a foot in depth. ^ 
The reason for such great depth of eaving was the protection of 
exposed stucco between the half-timbered frames of earlier 
buildings, but such projections were hardly necessary on a weather- 
boarded dwelling. The Norfolk house illustrated in Cummings 
also reveals the ends of purlins that extend the full depth of the 
eave, providing further support for the outboard common rafter 
and the rake boards that constitute the finish for the outside edges 
of the eaves. The exceptional depth of the Cupola House eaves 
is an interesting comparison with such British prototypes, for in 
this, as well as the exposed and carved plate ends and a similar 
exposure and decoration of the purlins, we find details that seem 
to be related to British construction of the late sixteenth century 
and much earlier. Nevertheless, the presence of these details is 
not proof that the builder had come from an isolated British shire 
where such post-medieval details were retained until much later, 
especially in view of the strange solutions made elsewhere in the 
framing. The employment of finials on the roof ridge at the out- 
side edge of the eaves also would appear to be a pre-seventeenth 
century device. Presumably these were mortised into the ridge 
beam, but it seems very unlikely that the present finials on the 
house could have survived the ravages of two-and-a-half centuries 
of weather. Nevertheless, they also appear on the 1918 view of 
the house. 

The growing puzzle of an assembled group of architectural 
details and construction methodology that appears to defy direct 
comparison with other models is considerably heightened by an 
examination of the second-floor jetty of the house. Next to the 
cupola, the overhang is the building's most prominent feature. 


Though no other examples of jettied buildings are known to 
survive in the South, the building practice must have been known. 
This is suggested in a surprismgly late eastern North Carolina court 
document of 1725 entitled "The Justices of Curratuck v. Peyton." 
In the suit, the justices of the Currituck precinct court, among 
whom was Joseph Sanderson, Richard Sanderson's brother, took 
action against the joiner, Robert Peyton, who in April 1723 "did 
agree ... to build for the said precinct a Courthouse of thirty 
feet in length eighteen feet in width with a fashionable overjet 
framed Worke Standing on Cedar Blocks . . . with sash win- 
dows. . . . "^ We might well wonder if Richard Sanderson indeed 
was familiar with "overjet framed Worke" in his native Currituck, 
where such things evidently were still considered "fashionable." 
However, that possibility must be considered entirely conjectural, 
particularly in view of the fact that Peyton had not constructed 
the courthouse by 1725, when it was demanded that his bond 
of £l40 be forfeited. 

Noted earlier is the fact that jettied New England houses were 
constructed by two methods. The earlier form had actually begun 
to disappear by the early seventeenth century in Britain, and saw 
a surprising rebirth in New England after mid-century. ^ In this 
application, the first floor corner posts rise only to the end girt 
or horizontal beam situated at the second-floor level. The end 
girts project over the first-floor posts, and the second-floor posts 
are then mortised-and-tenoned to the projections of the girts, 
thereby forming the overhang (fig. 10). This construction per- 
sisted to the first decade of the eighteenth century in New 
England, but rapidly gave way to the later form of attenuated 
jetty which was not achieved by a framed overhang. Instead of 
allowing the end girts to project, the front girt was simply hewn 
into an L-shaped section, thereby providing a shallow jetty four 
to six inches deep, much in contrast with the ten to twelve inches 
or more of soffit obtainable in a framed jetty. The hewn overhang 
persisted through the eighteenth century in some areas of New 
England, representing something of a vestigial remains of an 
earlier and more robust style. 

On the exterior, the deep jetty of the Cupola House suggests 
a framed overhang. The actual construction, however, was found 
to have nothing to do with known British or New England framing 
traditions. Rather than having two tiers of corner and story posts, 
the Cupola House has single, one-piece posts that rise from the 
sills to the plates, with the exception of the paired single-story 

May, 1989 73 






End Girt 

Principal Rafter 

Common Rafter 

False Plate 



Principal Girt 

False Girt 


Corner Post 

Figure 10. Elevations of framing plans for jettied second stones. Left to right: 
New England. 17th century; New England, 18th century; the Cupola House. 
Technical art by Ron Rice, with the details of the Cupola House false girt and 
brackets provided by James Me Ichor. 

posts that are really no more than heavy studs. From the second- 
floor level to the plates, the posts are twice their first-floor depth 
(figs. 8, 14). This dimensional change in the posts allows the upper 
level of the posts to project well over the lower halves. The posts 
are apparently joined conventionally with a series of girts mortised- 
and-tenoned to the posts, although this joinery could not be 
verified visually. In front of these principal or joined girts is a 



false girt (fig. 13) running the length of the house that is joined 
to the principal girts with large iron rivets approximately 1 1/4" 
in diameter. On the outside face of the false girts, the rivets are 
set into counterbores (fig. 12). They are not situated over the 
posts; from the apparent spacing, at least five and as many as 
seven of these rivets attach the false girt to the house frame. This 
construction was discovered only by virtue of the fact that rotted 
siding above the jetty had been removed from the house during 
the course of winter repairs, making two of the rivets visible, one 
of them well below the surface due to rot of the false girt. 

Figiof 11. ]ettied second floor construction revealed by removed weather 
boarding, southeast corner. 




Figure 12. Section through the false and pnncipal girts. Technical art by Ron 
Rice, based upon a representation by James Melchor. 

May, 1989 


■ iw j pi ff lf p i p il 


Figure 13- Exposed fa/se girt, east side of south elevation; the hole in the girt 
above the right side of the window is the counterbore for a rivet. 

Further supporting the false girt and its attendant framing 
above arc four heavy brackets under the soffit of the jetty (figs. 
9, 11). Like the false girt, the brackets proved to be attached to 
the frame with heavy rivets (fig. 15); the plugs covering the rivet 
heads are visible on the exterior. These rivets pierce the corner 
posts and the one-story posts between the windows. The nature 
of supports for the girt, if any, on each side of the door is unknown 
since that area is hidden by the rear columns and roof of the porch. 
On a jettied building, a porch appears to be a visual anomaly. 
The existing feature has a crown mold in front identical to later 
crown molds under the gable eaves of the roof, but other molding 
details appear to match similar treatment inside the house. The 
porch appears to date from the eighteenth century, but it deserves 
further study. 

The dummied girt and its attendant brackets, then, appear 
to be an ad hoc solution to providing a jettied second floor. The 
brackets themselves are classical in form, resembling inverted, 
giant bed molds consisting of an ovolo, fillet, and cyma. Brackets 
may be found at the gables of New England dwellings, but they 
are ornamental rather than load-bearing; on the 1683 Capen house 
in Topsfield, Massachusetts, the brackets are tenoned into the 
plates. They were sawn to the profile of a bolection molding; 
similar brackets ornamented the gables of the 1680 Old Feather 
Store (now gone) in Boston as well as the 1685-90 Andrews house 
in Hingham, Massachusetts.'" The 1650-60 Cowles house and the 
Gleason house of the same date, both in Farmington, Connec- 
ticut, have large ornamental brackets under the soffit of the jetties. 



Figure 14. Radiograph 23 of the corner post, southwest corner, with the source locate J in 
the second-floor southwest chamber and angled slightly down. The film for this radiograph 
was placed outside the house, its lower 17" side horizontally aligned with the lower edge 
of the bottom weatherboard of the second floor. Superimposed on the film are wrought 
nails, the horizontal grain and shadow of the baseboard at the bottom, the floor (lower 
right), the horizontal shadows of plaster lath (containing the small wrought nail nght of 
center top), the vertical grain of the corner post, the false girt (the rectangular shadow in 
the lower center of the film), and the honzontal grain and shadow of weatherboards (the 
large wrought nail at upper left is a siding nail). An examination of the radiograph resulted 
in the conclusion that the first floor (a) corner post is shouldered over the false girt and 
presumably continues in this one-piece double depth the full height of the second floor 
(b). The false girt is approximately 9" deep, matching the depth of the bracket tops (see 
fig. 15), and is about 6 3/4" in height. 

May, 1989 



2 2( 


Figure 15. Radiograph 24 of the top rivet of the bracket located between the 
windows of the first floor southeast room. The source of the radiograph was 
the east side of the bracket; the film was placed on the west side. The iron 
rivet is approximately 1 1 /4" in diameter; the upset or peened head is fitted 
into a counterbore that is plugged on the exterior. The console is approximately 
9" deep at the top. A modern wire nail below the nvet represents a repair. 

In both instances, the brackets were placed on each side of the 
door and at the corner posts, and both are cut with the profile 
of two astragals with an extra pair of fillets; the upper astragal 
is roughly twice the size of the lower. '^ There is nothing to suggest 
that they are load-bearing. 

The concept of riveted framing members is foreign to con- 
ventional building practice. Aside from the usual fasteners, archi- 
tectural hardware, and an occasional forged strap used to prevent 
the separation of highly stressed frames, '^ house joiners normally 
did not employ iron for any frame construction. The jetty of the 
Cupola House, in fact, appears to be significantly related to ship 
construction. As Parsons has noted, if the Cupola House were 
destroyed by a hurricane, leaving the bottom of the overhang 
beached in Pembroke Creek, we probably would mistake it for 
the keel of a ship. Such comparisons can hardly be considered 
glib when the construction is compared with the rotted keel and 
rudder post (fig. 16) of a sloop or schooner that may be seen in 
the public park on Union Point in New Bern. In a ship, the stem, 
keel, stern, frames, knees, and other hull members required either 
massive rivets or large trunnels (wooden pins) for joinery, since, 
like the Cupola House girt, many were laminated structures that 
could not be held together by common joinery. In that sense, 
even the brackets of the Cupola House jetty are not unlike ship's 


knees. We must not conclude from this that the artisan who built 
the Cupola House frame was without question trained as a ship- 
wright, but the allusion is compelling, especially in view of other 
aspects of the house frame that are either naive or unconventional. 
In port towns like Edenton, most woodworkers enjoyed a signifi- 
cant amount of maritime employment. Cabinetmakers, for 
example, commonly fashioned blocks of all sizes, as well as 
repinning and resheaving old ones, and they also made ship's 
pumps and fitted out cabin interiors., It would not have been 
unusual for a house carpenter to fashion either ship's knees or 
the corner posts of a dwelling. Conversely, it is equally possible 
that a ship carpenter might have tried his hand at a house frame. 
Since both house joinery and shipbuilding were largely specialized 
trades, an artisan trained in one field was likely to reveal a certain 
amount of ignorance when called upon to execute a job in the 
allied field. 

Figure 16. Rivets joining the keel laminates from a sloop or schooner, probably 
nineteenth century, Union Point, New Bern, N.C. MRF S- 14,302. 

May, 1989 


Figure 1 7. Radiographers preparing equipment for an exposure through the 
west or passage wall of the second floor southeast chamber. 

The X-ray radiography used to examine the construction of 
the house actually had been intended for study of the interior 
woodwork. The visual discovery of the riveted construction simply 
made the presence of the unit a bonus to the study. The equip- 
ment and technicians were supplied by ATEC Associates, Inc., 
an Indianapolis-based firm with an office in Norfolk. The equip- 
ment consisted of an Amersham 660 gamma ray emitter charged 
with 48 curies of radioactive Iridium 192 as a source; this device 
was used to expose high speed DuPont NDT 75 film. Exposure 
times were 45 seconds for interior walls, 60 seconds for exterior 
walls, and 75 seconds for the radiograph of the exterior bracket. 
The radiographers were Brett Clarke and Mike Johnson; 24 
exposures were made, all but two on 14" X 17" sheet film. A 
report detailing the position of each exposure was provided by 
ATEC, and J. Melchor undertook a painstaking analysis of each 
film, providing a written report of each. 

The X-ray radiographic examination of old buildings is not 
a new science, but it is infrequently employed due to the expense. 
A day's work at the Cupola House, for example, cost MESDA 
$1,230. Such analysis must be considered inexpensive, however, 
when examination by any other means would be destructive. X-ray 
therefore is a powerful ally of the preservationist. Restoration 
architect David McLaren Hart of Massachusetts has used 


radiography for similar applications for some time, and provides 
a succinct description of how it works: 

Very simply, x-rays are a form of high energy electro- 
magnetic radiation. . . . When a beam of x-rays is 
transmitted through any heterogeneous object, it is 
differentially absorbed, depending upon the thickness, 
density, and chemical composition of the object. The less 
dense portion of an object, for instance, allows a greater 
proportion of the radiation to pass through than the more 
dense. The image registered by the emergent rays on a 
film that is placed adjacent to the object constitutes a 
shadowgraph, or radiograph, of the object's interior. X-rays 
are able to penetrate most materials used in building con- 
struction, but with varying facility. Wood and conventional 
plaster are penetrated easily: masonry, earth, and some 
metals, on the other hand, are highly absorbent of x- 
rays. . . J^ 

The post-medieval appearance of certain aspects of the Cupola 
House framing are visibly evident on the interior of the dwell- 
ing. Most particularly, the heavy corner and story posts of the 
house are exposed wherever the walls of a room were plastered, 
including the first floor passage and southwest room or parlor 
and the second floor passage (fig. 18) and southwest bedchamber. 
When the original first-floor rooms of the Cupola House were 
installed in the Brooklyn Museum, the installations omitted the 
appearance of exposed posts, allowing cornices and chair-rails to 
mitre in the corners in normal fashion rather than either abutting 
the posts as in the passages or fitting around them, as they origi- 
nally were treated in the parlor (fig. 56).^^ 

During the eighteenth century, it was common practice to 
hew out the interior portions of large square or rectangular posts, 
leaving them in an "L" shaped section, in order to avoid their 
intrusion into a room. The tedious hewing allowed either plaster 
lath or paneling to be fitted into the space provided. Earlier, 
however, framing was not only left full-section and allowed to 
show in room corners, but was often run with decorative moldings 
or chamfers. The builder of the Cupola House chose a 
workmanlike solution to the problem of finishing and decorating 
the edge of the posts simply by casing them off on the inside 
with boards run with a robust flush-bead, certainly an easier task 

May, 1989 81 

Figure 18. Exposed story post, southwest corner of the second-floor passage. 

than planing posts cither before or after they were assembled. 
Some forty miles south of Edenton, in the tiny port of Bath on 
the Pamlico River, a French-born merchant, Michael Coutanche, 
built a two- story frame house ca. 1739-44 that is still standing, 
and known as the Palmer-Marsh house (fig. 19)- This dwelling 
also has posts that are exposed on the interior (fig. 20), but in 
this instance the exposed surfaces of the posts are finish-planed 
and then run with a flush bead. Except for its massive English- 
bond double chimney that incorporates lighted closets or cup- 
boards, the Palmer-Marsh house is a far more conventional struc- 
ture than the Cupola House, and its exposed framing represents 



Figure 19. Palmer-Marsh House. 1739-44. Bath. N. C. MRF S- 14.303. 

Figure 20. First floor southeast room, Palmer-Marsh House; an exposed corner 
post is located at the right of the window. MRF S- 14, 503- 

May, 1989 


a vernacular solution to a framing problem rather than one 
retardataire application among many that is characteristic of the 
Edenton structure. There are other examples of similar exposed 
framing elsewhere in the Carolina Coastal Plain. One relatively 
late example is 6 Church Street in Wilmington, a large, nicely- 
detailed coastal cottage with a full basement, and probably con- 
structed about 1790 even though it has an earlier appearance in 
elevation and architectural detail. The posts of 6 Church Street, 
like the Cupola House, are sheathed and molded. 

The most significant clue regarding the entire continuity of 
the Cupola House it lies in the decorative carving of both exterior 
and interior elements, for they are inextricably tied in regard to 
style and execution. Of the decorative exterior elements, perhaps 
the most problematical has been the finial of the front gable (fig. 
23). Noted earlier was the fact that this finial, along with its flank- 
ing rakes, was replaced at some indeterminate date before 1918. 
The face of the finial bears the initials "FC" and the date "1758," 
the year in which Corbin is thought to have completed whatever 
renovation to the house he may have performed. The initials 
themselves, as Waterman noted, "are applied and not carved 
upon the finial . " ' ^ Due to the absence of any visible weathering 
of the initials, in fact, it is not unreasonable to assume that they 
are not wood at all, but another material such as sheet lead, and 
simply tacked in place. The rather crude execution of both letters 
and figures offers no concrete stylistic evidence of age, so we do 
not know whether they graced an earlier finial or not. Fortunately, 
however, the abiding historical interest that the Bond family felt 
for the house brought about the preservation of the house's 
original finial (figs. 24, 25), which long has lain in the attic. It 
seems doubtful that Corbin, had he replaced the finial himself, 
would have bothered to save a rotted and badly weathered 
original. In any event, the present unit attached to the house 
utilizes neither the style nor the joinery of the original, which 
is larger and far more elaborate than the present unit. 

The original finial is pierced with a large vertical mortise that 
originally engaged a tenon on the end of the ridge beam of the 
gable. Although it has not been verified, the present finial does 
not appear to be attached with such a joint. The heavy weather- 
ing pattern of the original, in combination with the damp rot 
that appears to have occurred under something applied on the 
surface, suggests that the original rake boards of the gable very 
likely passed over the front face of the finial, joining in a mitre 


b s 



Figure 21. Radiugruph 1 uj the story post, southwest corner of the first-floor 
passage. The film was placed in the passage and the source in the southwest 
room or parlor. The bottom of the radiograph is at chair rail level. The radiograph 
shows a furring strip (a) nailed to the post with wrought nails about 2" long 
(b). The lathing (c) is nailed to both sides of the furring strip with wrought 
nails (d), indicating that when the woodwork of the parlor and passage were 
removed by the Brooklyn Museum, the original plaster and lath was left largely 
undisturbed. The presence of wire nails (e) in this image indicate the new facings 
on the corner posts and a new chair rail both installed during the 1960s 

May, 1989 


? Bl 

.' n ■ 






■ 1 


,; 1 




Figure 22. The south elevation from the southwest as it appeared circa 1918. 
Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum. 

in the center and thereby covering the mortise-and-tenon joint. 
Angled cuts in the face of the finial also suggest this, but the 
amount of weathering is too severe to provide concrete evidence. 
The upper portion of the finial was sawn to shape in a peaked 
spire that projected further above the ridge than the later unit. 
There is nothing left to prove or disprove that initials or a date 
of any sort were ever attached to this finial, but if indeed the 
rakes did cross the face, then it seems less likely that anything 
other than the rakes were applied to the surface unless it was in 
the upper part of the finial, which is substantially rotted. Whether 
or not the initials on the present finial, then, were ever applied 
to the original is not possible to determine. It is possible that 
the "FC/ 17/58" was indeed nailed to the original finial, and 
that the Bonds preserved the letters and affixed them to the later 
finial. It is equally possible, however, that the Bonds had the 
initials and date made and added to the new finial simply to 
commemorate the history of the house. This puzzle may never 
be solved. 



Figure 25. Finial. marked "FC/ 17/ 38, " front gable. This finial is a pre-1918 
replacement of the onginal (see fig. 24). 

More important to the examination at hand is the console- 
hke carving of the lower part of the old finial. Since the scroll 
at the bottom is not integrated with the lower edge of the finial, 
it seems possible that the finial rested upon an exterior collar beam 
fitted across the soffit of the gable. Whatever the arrangement 
might have been, the carving itself is very significant. A close 
examination of the carver's style and technique reveal beyond 
any doubt that the same hand executed the other exterior carv- 
ing still surviving on the building. The finial carving generally 

May, 1989 


Figure 24. Original front gable finial. The vertical mortise received a tenon 
cut on the end of the gable ridge beam. 



Figure 23. Detail of the carving at the bottom of the original finial. 

is well-drawn, but the flat, unmodeled quality of the leaves and 
simple, heavy-handed veiner shading is relatively naive. The 
shaping of the leaves, which in the typical carver's tradition was 
effected with vertical setting-in or straight-down cuts with gouges, 
shows the repeated application of only two radii of gouges. This 
degree of repetition of cuts with the same tools indicates that 
the carver's tool kit seems to have been a limited one. 

May, 1989 


Figure 26. Carved plate end, southeast corner, from the southeast. 








. aj- 

Figure 27. Detail of the southeast plate end, from the northeast. 





In addition to the early finial, other carved elements on the 
house include the surviving plate ends (figs. 26, 27) on the east 
side, the exposed ends of the purlins on both the east (figs. 29, 
30) and west (fig. 31) sides, and the ends of the ceiling joists 
of the cupola (figs. 32, 33). Since the plates are covered, it was 
not possible to determine whether their exposed ends were cut 
from the solid beams or applied with a mortise-and- tenon joint. 
Similarly, the ceiling plaster of the cupola prevents an inspec- 
tion of the ceiling joists. An examination of these modillion-like 
joist ends, however, reveals that several are not square with the 
external faces of the cupola (fig. 32), and one modillion on the 
north side is notched on top to accommodate a soffit board that 
may have warped before the modillion was installed. It is also 
possible that this evidence indicates warping of timbers, workman- 
ship that was not equal to the installation of an elaborate con- 
verging joist system, as well as later repairs, so any evidence of 
whether the cupola joist ends are actually part of the joists 
themselves is inconclusive. 

Figure 28. Southwest comer. The plates do not project on the west side, 
indicating that the projections had been datnaged and possibly removed before 
the installation of the present crown mold under the gable eaves. 

The pair of heavy principal purlins of the roof, however, is 
another matter. Investigation from both inside the knockhead 
attics of the garret as well as examination of the top of the 
southeast purlin with roofing and roof sheathing removed indi- 
cates that the exposed ends of three of the four purlins are integral 
with the beams themselves.'*^ Only the northeast purlin end 

May, 1989 


Figure 29- Exposed end of the southeast principal purlin, from the east. 

apparently is an integral portion of the beam was the northeast 
unit. The southeast purlin is notched half its depth to engage 
the principal rafter at that point. On the west side of the house, 
the purlins were notched a full three-quarters of their depth for 
the same purpose. This deep notching resulted in a partial destruc- 
tion of the purlin ends due to splitting along the end grain. The 
small amount of stock that retained the west purlin ends was not 
sufficient to prevent half of the southwest purlin end from 
splitting away (fig. 31), and a third of the northwest unit (fig. 
31). As noted earlier, a double ogee-with-fillet crown molding 
was added later under all the eaves, abutting the shear faces of 
the broken purlins on the west; this same molding was used under 
the gable of the porch roof. 

A substantial overburden of paint partially obliterates the 
carving under the purlin ends, but since they were protected from 
heavy weathering by the extended eaves, the essential nature of 
the shaping and modeling of the acanthus leafage is evident. This 
includes the limited number of gouges used for setting-in the 
profiles of the leaves, the flat modeling, and the simple, heavy 
veining that converges upon a thick, tapering central spine of 



the leaves. All of these details are consistent not only with the 
original finial carving, but that of the plate ends and cupola ceiling 
joist tips as well. The work was all executed by the same carver. 
Particularly significant is the fact that the purlin ends with the 
one noted possible exception, and very likely the plate ends as 
well, would have been sawn to shape and carved before the 
timbers were set in place. Any other solution would have been 


Figure 30. Detail of the southeast principal purlin. 

May, 1989 


unworkmanlike, for it would have taken a carver with grim deter- 
mination and either elaborate scaffolding or the physical attributes 
of a simian to shape and carve the bottom surfaces of the large 
beams after they had been joined to the roof framing. The con- 
tiguity of the exterior carving with the beams that it ornaments, 
at least in the instance of the purlins, therefore provides us with 

i<-«— .o- 

■-•»__.- *i> 










Figure 31- Exposed end of the southwest pnnctpal purlin, from the west garret 
window. The northern half of the purlin end is sheared off. 



important evidence about the contiguity of the entire structure. 
The chain of carving and construction Hnks the plan, frame, roof 
structure, cupola, and all of the interior finish, for the carver who 
executed the exterior decoration of the Cupola House also created 
all of the carving on both floors of the interior. 

ft ^ 

Figure 32. Carved ceiling jont ends under the soffit of the cupola roof. One 
of these ends is crooked, indicating poor installation, later warpage. or the 
possibility that the modillion-like joist ends are separate pieces. 

The original carving remaining in the house today consists 
of the chimneypieces in the southeast and southwest second-floor 
chambers and the brackets or spandrels of the stair. As noted 
earlier, the balance of the first floor woodwork is an excellent 
replica based upon the original woodwork now installed in 
Brooklyn. The original carving on both floors of the house, like 
that on the exterior, is relatively elaborate but not necessarily well- 
detailed. The work, although it could not be classified as crude, 
certainly reveals the hand of a carver not trained in urban architec- 
tural carving. Instead, his style is antiquated, a vernacular 
extension of the English Baroque style of the late seventeenth 
century. A comparison with other American architectural carv- 
ing of the first half of the eighteenth century has yielded no strong 
parallels. The style of the Cupola House work has something of 
the rather flat, stonecarver's-like quality of the large appliques 
in Drayton Hall, built in the late 1730s near Charleston, South 
Carolina. However, the design sources for the Drayton decora- 

May, 1989 



Figure 33. Detail of the carved acanthus on one of the cupola joist ends. 



tion are known, and the carving, if not wholly urban quality, 
is more competently drawn and better-detailed than the Cupola 
House decoration. The latter has more of the quality of maritime 
carving, which often depended upon a polychrome finish to pro- 
vide carved details with greater boldness. Such a comparison is 
hardly adequate, however, since there is very little American ships' 
carving like that ornamenting transoms, trailboards, and billet 
heads, that survives from even as early as the late eighteenth 

The essentially Baroque nature of all the interior carving is 
nowhere more evident than that in the second floor rooms. All 
of the interior carving shows the use of the same tool sweeps and 
techniques used on the exterior, including the flat quality of 
modeling and simple, heavy veining converging on the central 
spines of the acanthus leaves. The result, especially on the 
elongated consoles of the two second-floor overmantels (figs. 35, 
37), is very repetitive. None of the interior work is as deeply 
relieved as the exterior carving, showing the carver's understanding 
that decoration that was to be installed far above the viewer's 
level required greater boldness in order to be seen at all. Carving 
inside the rooms obviously did not carry the same visual require- 
ment, and therefore needed less relief at its edges. 

The second floor overmantel consoles are not only Baroque, 
but almost pre-Baroque or Mannerist in both form and execu- 
tion. In classical architecture, consoles were intended to give the 
appearance of supporting architectural members above them, and 
therefore in this instance they are placed just below the overmantel 
pediments. In neither case, however, do these consoles have the 
appearance of anything other than applied ornament. Their pro- 
files are too flat for their height so that they do not project suffi- 
ciently, and the severe, squared plinths below them are naive. 
In the southeast chamber the upper portions of the consoles are 
allowed to die under the lower crown mold of the pediment (fig. 

Each of the four original fireplaces in the house shows a later 
alteration. In their initial configuration, the fireboxes had con- 
siderable depth and width, especially on the first floor, where 
the fireboxes have been returned to their early form during the 
restoration work of the 1960s. Although dramatic in appearance, 
the great size of the original fireplaces certainly must have caused 
a considerable degree of inefficiency, with much of the warm air 
in the room rushing up the cavernous flues. By the late eigh- 

May, 1989 97 

Figure 54. Chimney piece, second floor southeast chamber. 



Figure 35. Detail of an overmantel console, second floor southeast chamber. 

May, 1989 


Figure 36. Chimney piece, second floor southwest chamber. 




Figure 37- Detail of an overmantel console, second floor southwest chamber. 

May, 1989 


teenth century, it was well known that smaller fireboxes of a 
different plan served far better for heating; theories for proper 
fireplace design were published in England by Count Rumford. 
Both of the second floor fireplaces were "Rumfordized" at an 
indeterminate date with shallow sloping backs, constricted throats 
and smoke shelves, sharply-splayed sides, and lowered arches. All 
of the original arches on both floors were segmental, and now 
are flat. These alterations required that the fireplace surrounds 
be reworked in order to better relate to the lowered arches. The 
moldings used for the mantel architraves on the second floor 
match those of the Neoclassical woodwork of the northwest 
chamber (fig. 38), indicating the probability that the fireboxes 
were altered at the time that the northwest chimney was added. 
However, the jambs of the first floor southeast room, or hall, 
were fitted with a marble facing (fig. 50) of a style that began 
appearing in the Southeast by the 1750s. This facing was smaller 
than the firebox, and concealed the segmental arch that is still 
in place. Just when this facing was added, then, is subject to 
question, but the alteration was earlier than that of the second- 
floor fireplaces. 

The alteration of the second floor mantels is evident upon 
examination of the firebox surrounds. In the fully-paneled 
southeast chamber, the crossetted architrave of the mantel (fig. 
34) has either been reduced in both height and width or simply 
replaced altogether. Evidence of that possibility lies in an 
apparently identical ovolo backhand on the Neoclassical mantel 
(fig. 38) in the northwest chamber. Whatever the form of the 
original backhand molding, it was spaced further from the firebox 
than the present ovolo. If it was a crossetted backhand, then the 
crossettes extended to the fillets of the panel stiles on each side 
of the fireplace. This seems indicated by the short section of 
pieced-in chair rail just below the crossettes, yet the room bases 
are not similarly pieced, suggesting that they are replacements 
dating from the mantel alteration. The original segmental arch 
is preserved behind the present mantel fascia approximately eight 
inches above the present splayed arch, indicating that the posi- 
tion of the upper backhand molding was lowered at least 5 1 / 2 " . 

The southwest chamber shows similar alteration to the mantel 
woodwork (fig. 36). In this instance, the entire architrave 
surrounding the firebox clearly is a Neoclassical replacement, since 
it has the same molding configuration of the door casings of the 
northwest chamber. The lower flat arch of the fireplace 

102 MESDA 

Figure 38. Mantel, second floor northwest chamber. Photograph courtesy of 
the Brooklyn Museum. 

necessitated the wide fascia under the upper architrave. Evidence 
of the original fireplace arch is missing in this room, but it 
presumably was an exposed segmental arch like the others. Chair- 
rail piecing also has taken place in this room, indicating the 
possibility that the mantel shelf and the torus below it have been 
reduced in width, which is a possibility since the shelf in the 
southeast chamber is the same width as the pediment above. 
Without the complete removal of paint and even some of the 
overmantel elements, it is difficult to determine just how the 

May, 1989 


Figure 39- Radiograph 4 of the baseboard of the west or passage wall of the second floor 
southeast chamber; the source was in the passage, the film in the chamber. The exposure 
was made at a position 29 inches south of the passage door frame. Plaster debris (a) up to 
6 3/4" deep is seen at the bottom; the short wrought nails with heads attach the plaster 
lath (b); slimmer, apparently headless spngs driven into the stud (c) attach the chamber 
paneling. A mortise and tenon Joint (d), with its pin, just above inch iJ, is part of the 
framing of the chamber paneling. Three empty nail holes in this four-inch stud indicate 
from their regular spacing that the chamber probably originally was sheathed and then 



Figure 40. Radiograph 19 of a stud in the west wall of the second floor southeast char?iber. 
33 "south of the passage door. The source was in the passage, and the film in the chamber. 
This radiograph is part of a vertical series of exposures of this stud, beginning at 14" above 
the floor and continuing to the ceiling. This particular exposure represents inches 33. 42. 
and 47 above the floor. The film reveals paneling and lath secured to the stud with wrought 
nails {a): empty naU holes at 2 3/8". 6 3/8". 9 7/8". 11 3/4". and 13 3/8" (two (b) 
of these are clearly visible above and below inch 41): repairs (c) to a cracked panel made 
with wire nails are visible. 

May, 1989 


southwest chimneypiece was altered. There is nothing to suggest 
that its original appearance, other than a different mantel 
architrave and perhaps a wider shelf and torus, was markedly 
different than what we see now. 

The alteration of the fireboxes and surrounding woodwork 
on the second floor appears to have taken place early in the nine- 
teenth century. Evidence of a much earlier alteration to the entire 
finish of the southeast chamber, however, was revealed both by 
visual inspection and X-ray. During the course of examining the 
upper framing of the house where rotted siding had been 
removed, it was found that the wall studs of the second floor 
southeast chamber have been spliced with lapped scarf joints 
approximately ten inches in length. X-ray analysis shows that these 
scarfs are fastened with wooden pins (fig. 4l). The lower part 
of the studs as well as the spliced section are both pit-sawn. The 
paneling of this room is not attached directly to the studs and 
braces, but rather to furring strips nailed across the studs with 
wrought nails, as the X-rays reveal (fig. 40). Since there is a space 
between the studs and the back of the paneling, the inside faces 
of the studs could be studied. It was found that these faces were 
filled with broken nails and empty nail holes, both of which could 
be viewed with a mirror. 

It is difficult to understand the reason for the pieced-out studs. 
Their joinery and surface finish appear to indicate that this alter- 
ation took place during the construction of the house, possibly 
due to an error on the part of the joiner. They actually were cut 
approximately four inches too short. The studs are mortised into 
the false girt (fig. 13), but it would have seemed simpler to make 
and fit new studs rather than lengthening them. However, other 
anomalies in the framing also strongly suggest both ignorance 
and errors, so the possible stud errors and consequent alterations 
are in keeping with some of the strange framing practices seen 
elsewhere, particularly in the roof. Two studs were observed to 
have numbering that does not correspond with any known frame 
numbering, suggesting that during the course of splicing them 
out, the studs were moved about or were even spliced with sal- 
vaged material. X-ray analysis showed no such anomalies with 
the studding of the southwest chamber. 

The nail holes inside the southeast chamber studs extend the 
full height of the studs, indicating that something was attached 
to them, including the scarfed upper portions. This was verified 
by a series of X-rays extending the height of one stud in the west 

106 MESDA 



/ „. ... 


m ii 


Figure 41. Radiograph 10 of the stud east of the west window in the south 
or exterior wall of the second floor southeast chamber. The source was in the 
chamber; the film was located on the exterior at the base of the stud. Paneling 
details are clear in this example; the furring strip is indicated only by the larger 
wrought nail (a) near the top which attaches it to the stud; the smaller slit or 
T-head finish nail (b) at the top attaches the paneling to the furring strip. The 
scarf joint is evident here only by the presence of a trunnel or wooden pin (c) 
at right center of the radiograph. Horizontal cracks (d) in the paneling also 
can be seen. Empty holes (e) and a broken nail (f are also apparent. 

May, 1989 


or passage wall of the room (fig. 40). The vertical spacing of the 
nail holes suggests the former presence of horizontal sheathing. 
The average spacing between the holes on the one stud is approx- 
imately 4 1/2", but spacing varied between a minimum of two 
and a maximum of nine inches. It is clear that these nail holes 
had nothing to do with plaster lath such as those applied to the 
studs of the southwest chamber (fig. 42), which retains its original 
wall finish. A lath requires a relatively uniform, close spacing of 
2-2 1/2". Further, plaster lines remain on studs even after lath 
and plaster is removed, and there is no evidence of this in the 
southeast chamber. 

Both visual inspection and X-ray indicate that most of the 
nail holes in the studs are empty. This indicates the probability 
that the nails were pulled out of the studs soon after they were 
driven in, for the tannic acid in ring-porous wood (the studs appear 
to be oak or ash, but no microanalysis was made) cause nails to 
rust fast very quickly. Wrought-iron nails break off easily. This 
appears to indicate that the owner very likely changed his mind 
regarding the finish of the room during the course of construc- 
tion of the house. The change from what may have been sheathing 
to the present paneling may well have taken place even before 
the second-floor passage walls were plastered, since there is a good 
deal of plaster debris behind the base of the passage partition 
(fig. 39), most of which probably represents excess material 
troweled through the lath beyond what was needed for a good 
key. Had the passage been plastered before the installation of 
paneling in the southeast chamber, the plaster debris would have 
had to be removed since it would have fallen into the room in 
a talus, preventing the installation of bases without prior removal 
of the debris. 

It appears, then, that the wall finish of the southeast chamber 
was changed during the course of construction, very likely from 
sheathing similar to the vertical beaded boards backing the 
chimneypiece in the southwest chamber, but mounted horizon- 
tally. Removal of such a wall finish and replacement with fielded 
paneling provided a second-floor room with much of the formality 
of the first floor hall below it. Such shifts during construction 
are not unusual in the least, for a number of other early buildings 
have revealed similar evidence. Such things could be taken as 
evidence that a building had been upgraded, but we have already 
seen that the mantel carving of this room was executed by the 
same artisan that carved portions of the exterior frame. Had the 

108 MESDA 




Figure 42. Radiograph 13 of the baseboard of the east or passage wall of the second floor 
southwest chamber; the source was located in the passage, and the film in the chamber. 
The exposure was taken 41 inches south of the passage door frame. This exposure is part 
of a series taken of the chamber base. Visible are extensive plaster debris (a) in the wall 
pocket, roughly 10 1/2" deep, probably associated with electrical work; lath and baseboards 
are nailed to both sides of the stud at inch 41 (b). A wire nail in the stud is visible 10 3/8" 
above the floor, along with metal lath along the left edge of the stud (c), both indicating 
modern repairs. There are no empty nail holes in the studs of this wall, indicating original 
plaster on both sides. 

May, 1989 


chimneypiece been installed in the room before it was paneled, 
it would have had to be removed before the paneling was installed, 
which hardly seems plausible. The plaster debris from the hall 
partition further strengthens this. Also, the garret is finished with 
paneled doors and other details that are consistent with the second- 
floor woodwork. If the lower stories of the house had been 
upgraded at a later time, the experience of the authors indicates 
that overt evidence of earlier attic detailing such as batten doors, 
plain casings, and sheathing rather than plaster would have sur- 
vived a later retrimming of the lower floors. This, however, is 
not the case, for the finish throughout the attic is of high quality 
for a Carolina attic, and no evidence was found that it has been 
added. It should be noted that the fields of all the paneling in 
the house, including the doors, are sunk slightly below the 
surrounding stiles and rails. In the northeast, this is often 
understood to be a later detail, since most raised paneling in pre- 
Revolutionary buildings of the middle and northern states has 
fields that rise above the frames. There are, no doubt, excep- 
tions to this rule in the north. Exceptions certainly occur in the 
south; in the MESDA collection is a northeastern North Carolina 
desk-and-bookcase of 1720-35 with dramatic arched-head panels 
with fields sunk well below the frames.^'' 

Figure 43- Staircase, north end of the first-floor passage, after the 1960s restoration. 
Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum. 



Figure 44. Second-floor staircase landing, showing the stringer and brackets of the third 

The stairs of the Cupola House were part of the woodwork 
that was not removed after the 1918 sale of the interiors, but 
examination of the balustrade and carved brackets appears to 
indicate that removal of the stairs very likely had begun. 
Numerous wire nails suggest re-attachment of the elements, not 
just later repairs. Alterations to the stair had already taken place 
before 1918, however, for at the time that the Brooklyn Museum 
was in the process of removing the woodwork, the curtail or volute 
of the bottom tread was largely missing. As a result of this, the 
replica stair installed at Brooklyn has a straight run to the floor. 
On the original stair, the bottom step itself is a baulk of solid 
timber, and enough of its curtail remained to guide its reconstruc- 

May, 1989 


tion during the 1960s restoration of the house (fig. 43). The 
handrail was reconstructed with a ramp based upon surviving 
mortises, in addition to using the existing ramps and newels as 
precedent. Interestingly, portions of the handrail are of mahogany, 
while other pieces are made of yellow pine. A limited amount 
of mahogany was available in the Albemarle certainly as early 
as the 1720s, for it begins to occur in southeastern Virginia 
furniture by that time. 

Figure 45. Detail of the brackets of the third run of the stair. 



Figure 46. First-floor southeast hall chimneyptece as installed in the Brooklyn Museum. 
Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum. 

The S-shaped stair brackets (fig. 45) of the Cupola House 
basically are a flat version of a console turned on its side. The 
pattern is a familiar one, illustrated with numerous variations in 
eighteenth century English architectural books. A slightly smaller 
version of the same device is employed as flat consoles at each 
side of the parlor overmantel (fig. 46), but without the flower 
inside the upper volute. Both the stair brackets and the overmantel 
consoles have stemmed flowers trailing from the lower volute. 

May, 1989 



11 Ij 

^^*^^ H M 

. ! 


Figure 47. Detail of the first-floor hall chimneyptece and south window architrave 
as installed in the Brooklyn Museum. Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn 



a standard late Baroque motif. These are quite flat, with no 
modeling other than rounded edges, and all of the flowers are 
simply veined in the same manner. The flowers used in these 
appliques are the most successful elements of the carving. Even 
more robust are the eight flowers set into the arched spandrels 
of the hall overmantel. Here the carver alternated the outer petals 
with small points, five on each flower, providing much the 
appearance of a Tudor rose. 

The fully-carved entablature of the hall, coupled with the 
carved elements of the chimneypiece, result in an impressive archi- 
tectural display. The boldest elements are the flowers ornamenting 
the overmantel panels and the modillions of the pitch pediment, 
each a miniature version of the carved plate and purlin ends on 
the exterior of the building. The scale of the woodwork in this 
room seems to overcome the available space, and indeed the pedi- 
ment actually intrudes into the plaster of the ceiling. The crown 
of the pediment, however, was not cut at ceiling height; instead, 
the plaster buries it slightly. This is also true of the pitch pedi- 
ment of the overmantel of the southeast chamber directly over 
the hall. The somewhat awkward installation of these pediments 
has suggested proof to some that the interiors were added and 
simply crammed into the available space as necessary. In a sense, 
the slightly overscaled woodwork of this room repeats the archi- 
tectural anomalies of the stair installation. Like the stair, the 
chimneypiece of the hall shows something of a lack of prior 
planning. The classical tenets of dynamic proportion demanded 
a certain height that the pediment needed to attain in relation 
to its width, so the huge size of the fireplace caused the joiner 
to draw a chimneypiece that did not quite fit the room. The 
somewhat "squashed" effect that resulted is rather charmmg m 
a vernacular sense, but offers no proof of anything other than 
to corroborate other stylistic aberrations already discussed. The 
nature of this chimneypiece caused Waterman to compare it with 
the mid-eighteenth century Old Brick House (fig. 48) near 
Elizabeth City in Pasquotank County, a bit less than thirty miles 
northeast of Edenton. Actually a brick-ended frame house, the 
Old Brick house had a fine parlor now enlarged and installed 
in a private residence in Delaware. The "curious and individual 
overmantel," as Waterman surmised, "relates Old Brick House 
to the Cupola House. "'^ Actually, the overmantel, shown here 
in its original state (fig. 49), is a direct adaptation of a door head 
from Plate CCCXXV, Vol. 2, of Batty Langley's Ancient Masonry 

May, 1989 115 

Figure 48. The Old Brick House, 1750-63, near Elizabeth City in Pasquotank 
County, N.C. HABS photograph by Thomas T. Waterman, 1940; reproduced 
from the collection of the Library of Congress. 

Figure 49- Parlor chimneypiece in situ, the OldBnck House. Photograph from 
a private collection. 



of 1736, a very rare instance where an early North Carolina house 
borrowed from a published design source. Interestingly, Langley 
credits a much earlier architect for the design with the inscrip- 
tion "By Michael Angelo." The same design was included in Plate 
74 of Langley 's 1741 Builder's Jewel. ^"^ Although quite a wonder- 
ful conceit, there is nothing to indicate any tie between this 
chimneypiece and the interiors of the Cupola House. 

It has been suggested that the chimneypiece of the hall was 
taken from Plate H (fig. 51) of the 1748 third edition of William 
Salmon's often-cited Palladio Londinensis, and indeed there are 
similarities. There is no doubt that Salmon's work was both widely 
circulated and assiduously studied by eighteenth century builders. 
It is also true that Salmon in turn had carefully studied the work 
of his predecessors, including Andrea Palladio and Inigo Jones. 
Like many British architectural books, or any design books for 
that matter, the various editions of Salmon basically present 
combinations of standard classical designs. The 1734 first edition 
oi Palladio Londinensis illustrates no elevations of chimneypieces; 
these plates were added to later editions. Caution should be 
observed in attributing a design to any plate, unless it is patently 
an exact copy of a specific plate as in the use of the Langley door- 
head design for the Old Brick house overmantel. This may be 
proven readily by making a comparative examination of the 
available architectural books of the period. That Salmon was 
simply followmg the mainstream of fashion, for example, is 
evident in the engraved elevations for a room designed by Colen 
Campbell and illustrated in Plate 100 of the 1725 Volume III 
of Vitruvius Britannicus (fig. 52). Like the plate in Salmon, 
Campbell's chimneypiece is composed of a broken pitch pedi- 
ment with flat consoles below. Full consoles below the mantel 
shelf trail husks down the pilasters, much in the manner of the 
Salmon plate. Campbell describes this plate as a section of a great 
hall "of my Invention." In Plate 34 of the same book he illustrates 
a section of the great hall of Houghton in Norfolk, the seat of 
Robert Walpole. Campbell must have designed much of the struc- 
ture of Houghton, which still stands, but William Kent was 
responsible for drawing the mantel that Campbell illustrates, and 
it is virtually identical to the chimneypiece in Plate 100 that 
Campbell claimed as his own design. 

From this, it should be readily apparent that architects freely 
copied from each other, and that standard classical designs were 
the part of most builders' repertoire. There is no evidence that 

May, 1989 117 

Figure HI CupoLi House first-floor southetist hall chimneypiece, taken in situ in 1911 
Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum. 

Figure 51. Plate H of William Salmon's Palladio Londonensis, third edition, 1748. 



Figure 32. A detail from Plate 100 from Culen Campbell. Vitruvius Britannicus. 
vol. 3. London. 1723. 

the joiner/and /or/carver at the Cupola House used any architec- 
tural book, or indeed that he even owned one. There is every 
evidence that he was well versed in the basic elements of Baroque 
classicism, however, even if the carving is not urban quality, and 
some of the interior detail is vernacular in nature. 

Noted earlier is the fact that the marble facing of the hall 
fireplace is a later addition. The original fireplace opening was 
slightly wider, and the segmental arch was exposed at the top. 
It is possible that this facing was installed either by Corbin or 
Dickinson, and the firebox reduced in size at that time. Such 
an alteration is earlier, then, than the changes made to the second 
floor fireplaces. The one-piece facing illustrated here is a replica 
of the original produced for the Brooklyn Museum; the original 
(fig. 50) was made in three pieces, as all such facings were, but 
had broken in several places. The facing of the replica chimney- 
piece now in the Cupola House itself is of marbleized wood, which 
seems a logical alternative to the problem of finding stone that 
matched the color and figure of the original material. 

The architrave of the hall mantel now in the Brooklyn Museum 
may well represent woodwork that was added to accommodate 
the marble facing. The inside edges of the architrave have a carved 

May, 1989 


Figure 55- North wall oj the southeast hall, taken in situ in 1918. Photograph courtesy 
of the Brooklyn Museum. 


Figure 54. North wall of the southeast hall as it is now installed m the Brooklyn Museum. 
Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum. 



ovolo that does not relate to other carved moldings in the house, 
but the authors have not been able to examine this carving other 
than in photographs. The strong possibility that the architrave 
was added, however, becomes evident in a comparison with the 
parlor across the passage. Except for the obvious difference of the 
robust Baroque broken-scrolled pediment in the southwest room 
(fig. 56), the formula for the parlor chimneypiece, at least below 
the pediment, is largely the same as that in the hall. The molding 
sequences for the mantel shelf are very close, and both have 
projecting sections at each end of the shelf, the projections resting 
upon small plinths below. In the parlor, rather flat consoles trailing 
a strange triangular applique carved with acanthus and husks lends 
visual support to the plinths and shelf above. The acanthus carv- 
ing of the consoles is closely aligned with the modillion-like joist 
ends of the cupola (fig. 33), but without the heavy central spine 
of the latter. In the hall, similar but slightly wider plinths rest 
upon the deep cyma molding comprising the backhand of the 
architrave; on the left side, the plinth does not align with the 
side of the backhand (fig. 46). This could be the result of error 
in the installation of the room in Brooklyn, but the presence of 
consoles in the parlor, which is a lesser room, strongly suggests 
that the hall also had consoles below the plinths, and an entirely 
different architrave. 

Like that in the hall, the fireplace of the parlor has been 
reduced in size. It is probable that all of its backhand molding 
as well as the paneled fascia above the fireplace is an eighteenth 
century remodeling. A paneled fascia occurring inside an 
architrave is a strange element even in a house that is quite 
characterized by vernacular details, and the width of its panel 
bevels and style of frame molding do not match the balance of 
the woodwork. Like the hall, the parlor chimneypiece originally 
displayed a massive segmental arch, and it is doubtful that any 
material originally covered the exposed arch and jambs at the sides, 
perhaps other than plaster. This is true of all the fireplaces except 
for those associated with the northwest chimney. 

Taken both from the historical viewpoint and as its own docu- 
ment of style and technology, the Cupola House offers certain 
concrete evidence while tantalizing us with questions the answers 
to which remain elusive. 

The history of the property must be considered alongside the 
architectural evidence, and a review of the Cupola House 

May, 1989 121 

■ ' -i 


Figure 5 J). Detail of the southwest parlor chimney piece as it is now installed in the Brooklyn 
Museum. Photograph courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum. 



Figure 36. West wall of the southwest parlor, taken in situ in 1918. Photograph courtesy 
of the Brooklyn Museum. 

chronology derived from Bruce Cheeseman's study is appropriate. 
Lot Number One of the new plan of Edenton, where the house 
stands today, was purchased by Christopher Gale on 25 April 1724 
for the consideration of five shillings. On 6 May of the same year, 
Gale sold the property to Richard Sanderson of Currituck and 
Perquimans counties for £25, one-hundred times the amount that 
Gale had paid for the same property. Sanderson, a merchant 
mariner who constantly plied the coastwise trade to New England, 
married Gale's sister-in-law, Ruth Laker Minge, in 1726; she died 
two years later. On 26 April 1726, barely two years after he had 
purchased the property, Sanderson sold "Lot no. one & house" 
to John Dunston for £100 sterling. Dunston, a naval officer 
charged with the collection of port duties, died during the summer 
ensuing. His widow, Martha Dunston, resold the "lott and 
house" to Richard Sanderson on 1 August 1727, the sale price 
remaining at £100 sterling. Mrs. Dunston remained in the dwell- 
ing, apparently as a renter, until the summer of 1730. 

On 12 November 1731 Sanderson again sold the property, 
which was described as "houses outhouses & Edifices," to the 
London merchant William Morton. The sale price had dropped 

May, 1989 


to "85 pounds Province Bills." Very little is known of Morton, 
who apparently spent a great deal of time in England. Never- 
theless, the property remained in his family until 1756. Less than 
a year after he had purchased the house, on 23 August 1732, 
Morton appointed John Montgomery "to sell and dispose" of 
the property. This was not done. Morton retained the house, and 
died in the late 1740s; in 1749 his heirs appointed Thomas Barker, 
among others, to settle the estate and dispose of the property. 
Barker was an attorney who came to Edenton from Massachusetts 
during the 1720s. 

Francis Corbin arrived in Edenton in 1750 and leased a plan- 
tation near the mouth of Pembroke Creek on the west side of 
town. He became Granville's sole agent in North Carolina in 1751. 
On 19 April 1756 Corbin purchased the property, "containing 
one- half acre & all Houses Buildings and Gardens" for £61:5:0 
"Proclamation Money" from Thomas Barker, the agent of the 
Morton heirs. Corbin completed construction of a wharf on the 
south side of the property in 1758. He married Jean Innes in the 
fall of 1761, and thereafter apparently spent most of his time 
at "Point Pleasant" near Wilmington. He died in the fall of 1767, 
and the contents of the Cupola House were sold the following 
year. The 1769 Sauthier plan of Edenton (fig. 3 of the Cheeseman 
article) shows the house situated in the center of the lot. Four 
major dependencies are indicated at the rear of the house on the 
north side, and two small structures, possibly gazebo-like garden 
buildings on the south or street front. Upon Corbin's death, the 
property reverted to his family; on 7 February 1777 Edmund 
Corbin of Wilmington sold the "water lott Houses tenements 
Buildings and Appurtenances" to Dr. Samuel Dickinson for £400. 
Dickinson and his heirs owned the property until 1918. 

The chain of ownership of Lot Number One, then, indicates 
that a house of some description occupied the property from at 
least 1726 until the present. During the course of five transferrals 
of the property, the sale price ranged from £100 sterling to as 
low as £61:5:0 province money when Corbin bought it, ascend- 
ing to £400 in North Carolina currency in 1777. The Dickinson 
purchase price no doubt indicates both the rampant inflation of 
the early Revolutionary period as well as improvements that Corbin 
had made, including the wharf. Other than the wharf, the exact 
nature of Corbin's work on the property, including the house 
and dependencies, is unknown. Alterations or remodeling and 
repair to the house that Corbin could have carried out are the 

124 MESDA 

present exterior crown moldings, the first-floor hall and parlor 
fireplace facings and surrounds, and possibly the present porch. 
It is equally possible, however, that Samuel Dickinson effected 
these changes. The carpenter, Robert Kirshaw, was awarded 
£211:6:0 against the Corbin estate in May, 1772. As we have seen, 
one alteration that cannot be attributed to Corbin is the finial 
at the front gable of the house. The present finial appears to have 
been installed at an undetermined date in the nineteenth century, 
probably after 1850. 

An examination of contemporary sale prices of properties, with 
a particular focus upon existing structures that can be compared 
with the Cupola House, has not yielded any significant conclu- 
sion. It appears evident that the initial £100, while a seemingly 
low figure, could have been a sum sufficient to purchase a dwelling 
of the Cupola House size and quality, but that is by no means 
definitive proof of anything other than the fact that a house sat 
upon the lot in 1726. The most useful documentation presently 
available, then, is the dwelling itself. 

There is no totally concrete evidence that the Cupola House 
was built by Richard Sanderson, or any other specific individual, 
for that matter. As we have seen, the entire structure is a con- 
tiguous unit, constructed all at once except for the later addition 
of a chimney. The evidence of this contiguity, however, does not 
provide us with a firm date. The building could have been con- 
structed at any time between 1724 and 1756, but so broad a 
chronological spread is unacceptable. An attempt to narrow the 
logical date range must take into account the factors discussed 

Yet another consideration is the possibility that a structure 
erected by Sanderson was either destroyed by a catastrophe such 
as a hurricane or even razed by a later owner of the property. 
If either was the case, then all visible evidence of an earlier struc- 
ture was removed before the present building was erected. There 
is no documentation of any destruction of a building on Lot 
Number One. It is also possible that one of the dependencies 
shown on the north side of the lot by Sauthier actually was a dwell- 
ing that preceded the Cupola House. One of them, in fact, is 
shown to be fully as large in plan as the house itself; situated 
on the west property line, the building faced Broad Street, with 
its long axis oriented north-south. This building, however, is 
thought to have been the kitchen, and it may have combined 
other functions such as a quarters and coach house. No archaeology 

May, 1989 125 

has determined anything about the nature of this and other 
dependencies. The large unit must have been gone by 1918, for 
it does not show in the photograph of that year (fig. 22). In this 
picture, a painted brick building stands behind the Cupola House. 
Unlike the building in the Sauthier plan, its gable end faces Broad 
Street. It is not known what this building was, but it could well 
represent an alteration of an earlier form. The arched window 
visible on its second floor, for example, is wider than that on the 
first floor. In 1759 Corbin purchased a brass lock and 10,000 bricks 
from the estate of Clement Hall, material that could have been 
used in the construction of a dependency. ^^ Despite the former 
presence of this and other buildings of indeterminate age on the 
lot, however, the Cupola House makes a strong statement for 
itself as the primary structure on Lot Number One. 

The house is an architectural anomaly, whether compared with 
northern or southern dwellings. There are relatively few double- 
pile frame houses in the tidewater South before the post- Revolu- 
tionary period. No other jettied buildings are known to survive 
in the coastal areas of the South. The Cupola House does not 
offer a good comparison with seventeenth century New England 
buildings that have deep framed second-floor overhangs. Sharply 
diverging from New England convention is the central hall, end 
chimney plan of the Cupola House, as well as the cupola itself, 
the oculus in the front gable, the use of guillotine sash, and the 
radically different construction of the jetty. The interiors of the 
Cupola House, while essentially Baroque in nature, nevertheless 
have details that are more modish than many urban New England 
interiors that likely are one or more decades later. For example, 
the use of bolection moldings where fielded panels join their 
frames persisted in some New England towns to the mid- 
eighteenth century. For these reasons, the house should not be 
presented as a translation of northern architecture. Far preferable 
would be an architectural comparison between the Cupola House 
and other Albemarle or even lower Chesapeake houses, but no 
significant parallels have been found. Dwellings like the Old Brick 
house in Pasquotank often may suggest vernacular similarities, 
but these have melted away under scrutiny over the years. It may 
be that the Vernacular Architecture Group or independent 
architectural historians in Britain will be able to reveal parallels 
to the Cupola House at some time in the future. 

The Cupola House blends details of style and construction 
that are largely old-fashioned, but tempered nonetheless by a 

126 MESDA 

degree of sophistication sufficient to rank the building high among 
American dwellings of its time. Aspects of the house that indeed 
are quite vernacular, and even naive or seemingly post- medieval, 
provide a dramatic foil for the classical elements that draw the 
house away from a representation of nothing more than a purely 
local statement. The exceptional amount of eave depth at the 
gables, coupled with the projecting and decorated plates and 
purlins, is one of the anachronistic aspects of the house that caused 
one of the research team to characterize the house as "basically 
Georgian with a number of embarrassing seventeenth century 
hiccups. ' ' The eaves actually represent a spasm that is earlier than 
1600. The massive framing of the house also seems to be an early 
detail, but the Cupola House is not alone in seeming to have 
been "over-built." German housewrights in the back country 
of Carolina were well known for such practices even into the nine- 
teenth century. Seldom encountered, however, is the degree of 
naivete in the framing of the Cupola House roof, most particulady 
in regard to the different pitch of the principal and common rafters 
due to the unusual application of the purlins. One possible reason 
for this discrepancy may have been the carpenter's distrust of 
loading the jetty structure. Other aspects of the house framing 
are equally unconventional, or even more so, as we have seen 
in the method used to obtain an overshot second floor. The riveted 
false girt and accompanying brackets suggest the mind of a ship- 
wright at work, endeavoring to solve an unfamiliar puzzle. 

The asymmetry of the facades, the roof finials, front gable, 
jettied second floor, and extended eaves are all post-medieval 
features upon which is transposed essentially Baroque architec- 
tural language that includes the classical cupola and other exterior 
finish such as moldings and the profile of the brackets under the 
jetty. The house makes its closest pass to conventional architec- 
ture of the eighteenth century with its excellent interiors and the 
employment of guillotine sash in the windows. Nevertheless, the 
interiors all represent the high Baroque classicism typical of 
middling-quality urban British interiors of the last quarter of the 
seventeenth century. This is evident in the Cupola House's display 
of sophisticated entablatures, full-height ranges of paneling, 
stopfluted pilasters, crossetted architraves, scrolled or modillioned 
pitch pediments, and an elaborate stair. Even so, the spatial 
application of some of these details at times reveals inadequate 
solutions in interior architecture, as we have seen in the stair and 
pediment of the hall overmantel. Such problems do not offer 

May, 1989 127 

documentation of interior remodeling or addition, however, par- 
ticularly since the exterior carving that is an integral part of the 
frame proves that the finish work inside the house is contem- 
porary with the rest of the structure. The interior trim itself is 
not derivative in the sense that the joiner can be shown to have 
referred to published design sources of the period. The classical 
detail employed, then, indicates a joiner — or perhaps even his 
patron — possessed with a working knowledge of urban interior 
architecture, and in the case of the artisan, the molding planes 
needed to execute them. 

Stylistically, some of the carved decoration of the interior is 
earlier than the paneling, architraves, and chimneypieces. Portions 
approach Mannerism in their flat, repetitive execution, suggesting 
the possibility that the joiner who drew the interiors did not carve 
them himself. Indeed, joinery and carving were usually separate 
trades. The carver was workmanlike in his approach, but his 
ornament reveals a limited number and variety of carving tools, 
and his style identifies the artisan as a carver not trained in the 
detail necessary for fine architectural finish. Nothing is known 
of the sort of carving available to Edcntonians before the 
mid-1740s, but work done by cabinetmakers there by 1750 and 
into the 1760s shows a great deal more sophistication (see 
Cheescman, figs. 5-8). That is not to say that the Cupola House 
carver could not have been a tradesman who was brought in to 
do a job, and then sailed away, leaving no other examples of his 
work in the region. It seems improbable, however, that an 
individual who ordered carving after 1750 would not have taken 
advantage of more skilled carvers already resident in the town. 
Even more improbable is that the Cupola House was built after 
1750, but if the carving and other interiors indeed were executed 
during that decade, then the entire house was built then. Logic, 
however, provides a better conclusion: the Cupola House and its 
interiors, with the exception of alterations to the first floor fireplace 
surrounds and the even later Neoclassical trimming of two rooms, 
has nothing to do with Francis Corbin other than the fact that 
the man occupied the space. Architectural matters aside, it should 
be considered unusual for a well-educated and wealthy former 
Londoner like Corbin to bespeak interior appointments that would 
have been deemed three- quarters of a century out of date in his 
native England. Indeed, it seems that Corbin was quite conscious 
of his rank and image in the colony, which is nothing unusual 
for an official with such an important office. 

128 MESDA 

If Corbin did not build the Cupola House, then we are left 
with the puzzle of who indeed was the first inhabitant. A 
dendrochronological examination of the house's timbers could 
be revealing if an accurate baseline sampling of tree-ring curves 
for the eastern Albemarle is established. Dendrochronology, if 
properly applied, can provide a very close date for when a tree 
was cut, and therefore presumably when a sawn timber was put 
into use. The process involves the procurement of drilled core 
samples in order to study the climatological impact upon grow- 
ing seasons as revealed in the tree rings. For accuracy, a number 
of baseline samples are required. In the Southeast, and particularly 
in the tidewater, the annual pattern of rainfall may vary widely 
even within one county, and this can be a serious detriment to 
the accuracy of dating timbers by this process. Trees with a root 
system situated in groundwater can also show radically different 
seasonal growth patterns than those on dry ground.^' 

Of the survey team that examined the Cupola House, two 
— Parsons and Bishir — have observed from the viewpoint of 
their own personal experience that a likely date for the construc- 
tion of the dwelling lies in the late 1730s or during the 1740s. 
Parsons suggests that the first owner's "surface orientation" 
affected everything visible, including the double plan, cupola, 
and elaborate woodwork, but that his lack of knowledge in exterior 
architecture left the building reliant upon vernacular building 
methods for the frame and chimneys. The greatest problem faced 
in this study, of course, is just what vernacular the cupola house 
belongs to. It seems improbable that it is truly unique, if a view 
wider than Carolina is taken, but overviews are dangerous. The 
interiors suggest nothing that would make them later than well- 
known first-quarter eighteenth century Virginia houses such as 
Marmion or Tuckahoe. Like other Virginia houses, however, the 
regional attributes of Tuckahoe's interiors are more dramatically 
tempered by urban antecedents than the work of the Cupola 
House, especially in regard to the carving. Nevertheless, no 
architectural historian actually has been able to present evidence 
that the Cupola House and its interiors could not have been 
finished as early as the 1720s. ^^ 

With Corbin logically eliminated as the builder of the house, 
we are left with Richard Sanderson, who built some sort of dwell- 
ing on the property, sold it to John Dunston, and repurchased 
it fourteen months later, holding title to the property for six years 
in all. There is a remote possibility that Dunston had a hand in 

May, 1989 129 

the erection of the house described in the sale if Cheeseman's 
hypothesis that the Dunstons were renting the lot prior to the 
sale is correct. Such arrangements were not uncommon. William 
Morton owned the property for more than fifteen years, but 
occupied it sporadically; his heirs held title thereafter until 1756. 
Three attorneys were appointed by the Morton heirs to dispose 
of the estate; one of them, Thomas Barker, was a resident of 
Edenton. It hardly seems likely that Barker had anything to do 
with the construction of the building, although it is possible that 
he lived there for a time. We know very little about Morton, who 
certainly could have built the house. However, there is no actual 
documentary research that can be correlated significantly with 
the fabric of the house. From that standpoint, it is equally, if 
not more likely, that Sanderson built the Cupola House as we 
see it, with, of course, the exception of the Neoclassical alter- 
ations. In the present absence of possible further research on either 
Sanderson or Morton, then it seems plausible to support the logical 
conclusion that the Cupola House was built by one of those two 
individuals at some date between 1724 and about 1740. John 
Dunston cannot be ruled out completely, for he had the means 
and the time to complete such a dwelling; however, he is a much 
less likely candidate than either Sanderson or Morton. 

Whether or not the year of construction is ever reliably proven, 
the Cupola House is a remarkable statement. That it reflects a 
strange mixture of naive or even post-medieval concepts with more 
sophisticated details, and whether the resulting potpourri of 
technology and architecture is due to ignorance on the part of 
an owner or builder, is almost beside the point. Within the 
acknowledged limitations of our current understanding, the house 
is architecturally unique in the South, and indeed even along 
the entire east coast. Its pastiche of fascinating anachronisms, 
coupled with the colorful history of its inhabitants, make the 
Cupola House a very special place indeed. 

130 MESDA 


1. Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Early Architecture of North Carolina 
(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1947), p. 29. 

2. Thomas Tileston Waterman, The Mansions of Virginia. 1706-1776 (Chapel 
Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1945), pp. 232, 308. 

3. The date of Tuckahoe has long been considered to be earlier than this. 
Waterman suggests, for example, that the building ' "was commenced shonly 
after 1712" and that the brick-ended west wing was added "after 1730" 
(Waterman, Mansions, p. 84). Current thinking among architectural 
histonans, however, suggests a slightly later date for the eady portion, which, 
like the addition, is one room deep. 

4. See James R. Melchor, N. Gordon Lohr, and Marilyn S. Melchor, Eastern 
Shore, Virginia Raised-Panel Furniture. i7iO-7S30 (Norfolk, the Chrysler 
Museum, 1982), figs. 3, 40. 

5. Antoinette F. Downing and Vincent J. Scully, Jr., The Architectural 
Heritage of Newport Rhode blanch, 1640-1913 (Cambridge: Harvard 
University Press, 1952), pp. 58-9, pi. 74; Basil Oliver, Old Houses and 
Village Buildings in East Anglia. Norfolk. Suffolk. & Essex (London: B. 
T. Batsford, 1912), pi, LI. According to Geoffrey Beard, in England, 
buildings with cupolas were usually associated with customs and customs 
houses. Information courtesy Audrey H. Michie from a conversation with 

6. Robert Bell Rettig, Guide to Cambridge Architecture: Ten Vi^alking Tours 
(Cambridge: Cambridge Historical Commission, 1969), no. F22. 

7. Abbott Lowell Cummings, The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 
1625-1723 (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1979), pp. 
31, 61 (Fairbanks house); p. 9 (house in Norfolk). 

8. Robert J. Cain, et al., North Carolina Higher-Court Minutes. 1724-1730 
(Raleigh: The Division of Archives and History, 1981), pp. 174-5. 

9. Ihid., pp. 112-14. 

10. Cummings, Framed Houses, pp. 37, 136. 

1 1 . J. Frederick Kelly, The Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut (New 
Haven: Yale University Press, 1924), p. 63, plates IX, X. 

12. The 1769 Miles Brewton house in Charleston, S. C, for example, has 
massive angle irons at the corners of the upper and lower floor framing 
of the double portico. 

May, 1989 131 

13. David McLaren Hart, "X-Ray Inspection of Historic Structures: and Aid 
to dating & Structural Analysis," Technology & Conservation Magazine, 
Vol. 2, No. 2, Summer 1977, p. 10; see also David M. Hart, "X-Ray 
Investigation of Buildings," Bulletin of the Association for Preservation 
Technology, Vol. V, No. 1, 1973, p. 9; David M. Hart, "X-Ray Analysis 
of the Narbonne House," Bulletin of the APT, Vol. VI, No. 1, 1974, p. 
78; Mary Joan Kevlin, "Radiographic Inspection of Plank-House Con- 
struction," Bulletin oftheAPTY, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, 1986. Ms. Kevlin 
details the use of a portable unit of the sort used by veterinarians, and 
her study suggests that the use of such a device may be less expensive than 
a gamma ray emitter. 

14. For excellent view of the current installation of the rooms in the Brooklyn 
Museum, see Donald C. Pierce and Hope Alswang, American Interiors: 
New England & the South (Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum, 1983), 
particularly pp. 44, 48. 

15. Waterman, North Carolina, p. 29. 

16. Telephone conversation between Bivins and Peter Sandbeck of the 
Preservation Section, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, May, 1989; 
Sandbeck supervised the re-roofmg and other repairs of the building during 
February and March, 1989. 

17. John Bivins, Jr., The Furniture of Coastal North Carolina, 1700-1820 
(Wmston-Salem: The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, 1988), 
p. 139, fig. 5.55. 

18. Waterman, North Carolina, p. 29. 

19. This plate is illustrated on p. 34 of Mills Lane, Architecture of the Old 
South: North Carolina (Savannah: The Beehive Press, 1985). 

20. Estate Sale of Clement Hall, Box 45, Chowan County Estate Records, 1759, 
North Carolina Archives. Information courtesy of James C. Jordan III. 

21. Rainer Berger, Veronika Giertz, and Walter Horn, Can German Tree-Ring 
Curves be Applied in France and England?," Vernacular Architecture, Vols. 
1 and 2 (York, England: The Vernacular Architecture Group, 1970), p. 4. 

22. Abbott Lowell Cummings has made the observation that there is "no reason 
why the [Cupola] house couldn't be from the 1720s," based upon his 
examination of published views of the dwelling. Mr. Cummings also 
confirmed the futility of comparing early northeastern architecture with 
that of the South, where, as he further observes, prevailing British trends 
often were embraced earlier than in the North. Telephone conversation 
with Bivins, 24 May 1989. 

132 MESDA 

May, 1989 


MESDA seeks manuscripts which treat virtually any facet of southern decorative 
art for publication in the JOURNAL. The MESDA staff would also like to 
examine any privately-held primary research material (documents and manu- 
scripts) from the South, and southern newspapers published in 1820 and earlier. 

Some back issues of the Journal 
are available. 

The preparation of x\\t Journal ^2S made possible (in part) by a grant from 
the Research Tools and Reference Works Program of the National Endowment 
for the Humanities, an independent Federal Agency. 

Photographs in this issue by the staff of the Museum of Early Southern 
Decorative Arts except where noted. 

134 MESDA 


Forsyth Alexander, Editorial Associate 

Nancy Bean, Office Manager 

John Bivins, Jr., Editor/Director of Publications 

Sally Gant, Director of Education and Special Events 

Paula Hooper, Education Assistant /Membership Coordinator 

Frank L. Horton, Director Ementus 

Madelyn Moeller, Administrator 

Elizabeth Putney, Associate in Education 

Bradford Rauschenberg, Director of Research 

Martha Rowe, Research Associate 

Wesley Stewart, Photographer